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Algerian diplomats in Iraq kidnapped; Iran pledges $1 billion in aid

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Gunmen seized two senior Algerian diplomats and their driver Thursday in a brazen daylight abduction that further threatened Iraq's relations with Arab countries, as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced a $1 billion aid package from neighboring Iran.

Most Arab nations, whose populations are predominantly Sunni Muslim, are profoundly distrustful of Iran, a mainly ethnic Persian nation run by Shiite Muslim clerics. Al-Jaafari, an Arab, is a Shiite, as are a majority of Iraqis, and Sunni Arab leaders from the region have been wary of al-Jaafari's intentions.

Witnesses said attackers dragged the Algerians from their car at a busy intersection near their embassy in an upscale district of the capital. The Algerian government said those kidnapped were Charge d'Affaires Ali Belaroussi—the embassy's highest-ranking diplomat—diplomat Azzedine Belkadi and an unidentified assistant. The men reportedly traveled without bodyguards.

"This (the kidnapping) might bring negative results, but we will continue to secure them," al-Jaafari said Thursday. If embassies withdraw their diplomats, he said, "it reflects on their foreign policy. We'll ask our special forces to protect them from the hands of terrorists."

Earlier this month, the Iraqi government promised better protection for foreign diplomats after Egypt's top envoy to Baghdad was kidnapped and apparently executed and Bahraini and Pakistani embassy officials were attacked. The group al-Qaida in Iraq claimed to have killed Egyptian envoy Ihab el-Sherif, though his body hasn't been recovered.

Separately, al-Jaafari said in his first public remarks since he returned from a state visit to Iran that the neighboring Islamic Republic had pledged about $1 billion for rebuilding projects to include schools, hospitals and libraries.

Iran also will supply much-needed electricity. American-led efforts to fix Iraq's outdated and war-damaged power grid have yielded little difference in the lives of Iraqis, who are enduring their third sweltering summer with sporadic electricity since the war began.

Al-Jaafari and 10 of his Cabinet members met with top politicians and clerics in Tehran, where they negotiated plans to boost religious tourism in the southern Shiite holy cities of Iraq and to improve security along their shared border. Al-Jaafari denied that Iran would provide military training for Iraqi troops, a proposal that officials in Tehran floated and that was abruptly quashed after some American and Iraqi officials balked.

Iraq's elections in January installed a mostly Shiite, pro-Iranian government whose conservative tendencies have thwarted the Bush administration's efforts to turn Iraq into a democratic model for the Middle East. Al-Jaafari and many other senior officials spent years of exile in Iran during former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's reign and they maintain close ties to the clerical regime, whose relations with the Bush administration have been hostile.

"We are committed to a good relationship with our neighbors," al-Jaafari said.

Abdul Wahab Falah of the Algerian Embassy described Belaroussi as a 60-year-old veteran diplomat who's lived in Baghdad with his wife and three children for two years. Falah said Belaroussi was driving his Land Cruiser with Belkadi and the assistant when they were ambushed by two carloads of gunmen while on a short trip to the envoy's residence.

"I was coming from the opposite direction and saw what happened," Falah said. "It was only a few seconds before I went to get the police, but he and the kidnappers were already gone."

Mohammed Ismail, an Iraqi who lives next to the embassy, said workers had just added protective barriers to the compound hours before the kidnappings.

Also Thursday:

_The Dubai-based al Arabiya satellite channel broadcast the first footage of investigative hearings with Saddam since the Iraqi special tribunal filed its first case against him Sunday. In it, a haggard-looking Saddam complains that he hasn't been allowed proper access to his attorneys.

_Sunni Arab drafters of Iraq's permanent constitution continued suspending their participation until the Iraqi government meets their demands for better security and a larger role.

_Alaa al-Tamimi, the Sunni mayor of Baghdad, threatened to resign within two weeks unless the Iraqi government curbs what he views as ruling Shiite parties trying to intimidate independents into giving up key posts. In a phone interview from Amman, Jordan, al-Tamimi said Iraqi police had detained him at Baghdad's airport last week when he was trying to leave the country to attend a conference.

"What happened to me is a message to force my resignation," he said. "Maybe next time they'll do worse. They might kill me and throw my body on the street."


(Special correspondents Shatha al Awsy and Mohammed al Dulaimy contributed to this story.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.