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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Insurgents Target Diplomats in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq and the United States sought to prevent an exodus of diplomats from Baghdad on Wednesday after an ambush prompted Pakistan to pull out its ambassador, Bahrain's envoy was shot and Egypt's was kidnapped.

The Pakistani and Bahraini diplomats were both attacked by gunmen in their cars on Tuesday, three days after Egyptian chief of mission Ihab el-Sherif was snatched from the streets.

Al-Qaida's wing in Iraq said it was holding Sherif. The group has beheaded foreign captives in the past.

"They're trying to send a message to countries not to boost their representation in Iraq," Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said.

Washington urged other countries not to pull out.

"It's no secret Iraq is a dangerous place," U.S. Embassy spokesman Adam Hobson said. "We believe it's important for the international community to show support for the Iraqis by establishing and maintaining a diplomatic presence."

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabor told reporters during a break in a Cabinet meeting that the government had "a plan to protect diplomats after these incidents." He gave no details but said some diplomats were lax over their own security, and some may even have been having meetings with insurgents.

"The Egyptian ambassador went to a hot spot alone, and he bears responsibility for that," Jabor said. "We have some information that some ambassadors are meeting terrorists. And they bear the responsibility for that," he added, saying he was not referring to a specific case.

Diplomats have said that Sherif was grabbed when he went out to buy a newspaper, apparently without security protection.

Pakistan announced it was moving Ambassador Mohammad Younis Khan to the Jordanian capital, Amman, immediately after his guards repelled an attack by gunmen on his motorcade.

"We will review this decision when we detect any improvement in the security situation," a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Islamabad.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa responded by swiftly promoting his envoy, who was struck in the right hand by a bullet when gunmen fired into his car in what the Gulf Arab state called an abduction attempt. "In honoring and appreciating what Hassaan al-Ansari has done for his country ... his majesty the king has ordered he be promoted to ambassador," the BNA news agency said.

Unlike the United States, Britain and other countries that helped invade Iraq in 2003 and whose embassies are inside the heavily fortified Green Zone government compound, the missions that have been attacked rely on their own security in the city.

In separate incidents that may have also targeted diplomats, Moscow confirmed that two Russian Embassy armored cars were shot at on the notoriously dangerous road to Baghdad airport, and a bomb struck a vehicle near the Iranian Embassy.

The campaign against diplomats -- whether mounted by al-Qaida alone or by various groups -- seems aimed at denying the U.S.-backed, Shiite-led government in Baghdad the legitimacy it craves through improved ties. Other Arab countries, nearly all ruled by Sunnis, still have only tentative relations.

Days before Sherif's kidnapping, Iraq had announced that he was to become the first Arab diplomat in Baghdad with the full status of ambassador since the 2003 invasion.