Kingdom To Send Envoy To Iraq

JEDDAH/ CAIRO, 4 July 2005 — Saudi Arabia said yesterday it will resume diplomatic relations with Iraq even as Egypt’s envoy to Baghdad was reported kidnapped.

Dr. Saleh Al-Kohaimi, head of the Arab states department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Kingdom was one of the four Arab states ready to send ambassadors to Baghdad. The two countries have decided to renew diplomatic ties after a break of 13 years.

Al-Kohaimi said the ambassador to Baghdad would be named shortly. He said the Kingdom would welcome the return of an Iraqi ambassador to Riyadh. “An Iraqi team is currently in Saudi Arabia doing repair and renovation works at the Iraqi Embassy, vacant since 1991,” Al-Kohaimi added.

Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait are the other three Arab states to re-establish ties with Iraq.

The Saudi announcement came as a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in Cairo that the country’s envoy to Iraq, Ihab Al-Sherif, 51, was kidnapped in Baghdad on Saturday.

A source at the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad told Arab News by telephone that Ihab was kidnapped by armed men in two BMW cars when he stopped to buy newspapers at a shop on his way home in the University District from the embassy.

As the diplomat was accosted by the gunmen, he began to shout, drawing the attention of people in the store. But the gunmen shouted obscenities and pistol-whipped Ihab, causing him to bleed profusely. He was then bundled into the trunk of one of the cars and driven away at around 5 p.m.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was still awaiting confirmation of the kidnapping and that Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit had been in touch with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari.

Ihab’s kidnapping was the first of a head of mission in Iraq since a rash of foreign hostage takings began in April 2004. Insurgents briefly held another Egyptian diplomat in July that year and also kidnapped an Iranian envoy.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government said yesterday it was ready to talk to insurgents who fought US troops before the January election but not those implicated in the killing of Iraqis.

Government spokesman Leith Kubba told reporters in Baghdad: “The political process aims to reach out to groups that resisted and targeted foreign troops before the election and that perceived these troops as having entered Iraq without a legal pretext.”

“With the presence of an elected national assembly, these groups can achieve their objective of driving out foreign troops through the political process and the door is open to them.” UN Resolution 1546 endorsed the sovereignty handover by the US-led occupation to the interim Iraqi government in June last year and gave international legitimacy to the US-led foreign troop presence.

It was unclear from Kubba’s remarks whether the Iraqi government would be willing to talk to those who continue to target foreign troops.

A US official said Friday that the US Embassy was constantly approached by intermediaries claiming to represent armed groups but denied it had knowingly participated in direct talks with insurgents as announced by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld one week ago.

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