Iranian embassy employees shot in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Three employees of the Iranian embassy and their Iraqi driver were shot and wounded as they traveled Thursday to the Shiite Kadhemiyah Shrine in northern Baghdad.

As the Iranian men pulled into a Shiite area in Baghdad on the way to the shrine, two men on a motorbike pulled up to the vehicle and riddled their car with bullets, Iranian and Iraqi officials said.

Two of the Iranians were seriously wounded; another Iranian and an Iraqi suffered minor wounds, a spokesman for the Iranian embassy said Wednesday.

"We don't know who did this," said the spokesman, Manoucher Taslimi. "But we know there are many sides in Iraq who do not want good relations between Iran and Iraq."

The shooting comes during a tense time in Iraq over the relationship between the Iranian and Iraqi governments.

Sunni Iraqis and some Shiite Iraqis detest Iran for its continued interference in their nation and a perceived controlling relationship with their government. Most of the Shiite and Kurdish parties in the government were nurtured in Iran as they fought Saddam Hussein.

The United States has long accused Iran of funding, training and supplying weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq. In recent weeks the Iraqi government also criticized Iran before distancing itself from the U.S. accusations.

The shooting occurred a short distance from the Buratha Mosque headed by Jalal al Din al Saghir, a lawmaker from the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

"It seems as if they were waiting for them," Saghir said of the gunmen after speaking to the Iranian embassy.

The men were being treated in a Baghdad hospital but the more seriously wounded are expected to be transported to Iran, Taslimi said.

In Mosul, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki urged unity in the Sunni province where he's gained a newfound respect for his hard stance against Shiite militias in the south and in Baghdad. He spoke from the province on the fifth day of an Iraqi-led security operation to cleanse the province of insurgents.

Maliki spoke with tribal leaders, former officers of the Iraqi army under Saddam's regime and prominent members of the community.

"The country entered sectarian war and we were saying it didn't but this country did," he said in meetings with tribal leaders. "How many innocent humans were killed? .... Who gave the right to anyone to kill a human because of their belonging or belief?"

He added that the government would not just restore security but also services and reconstruction in the Al Qaida stronghold.

Iraqi Security Forces are going door to door in Ninevah province searching for insurgents. More than 500 people have been detained in the operation.