Outrage at diplomats’ killing in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Insurgents set off a huge blaze when they blew up a train carrying petroleum products in Baghdad on Thursday, as governments around the world condemned the murder of two Algerian diplomats kidnapped last week.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari accused the insurgents of seeking to undermine diplomatic ties between his country and the Arab world, and said that US-led coalition forces would be called on to protect foreign diplomats.

The oil train attack was the first such attack in Iraq, railway spokesman Jawad Al Kharsan told AFP. The attack ignited a massive blaze extending down the railway line in southern Baghdad.

An Iraqi soldier was killed and four others, including a civilian, were injured in the blast. The five-man train crew, however, escaped unhurt, railway officials said.

The seven-tanker convoy was attacked less than a kilometre away from the Dura oil refinery.

An interior ministry official said the train struck a bomb on the line, but railway workers said the explosion could also have been caused by a rocket-propelled grenade.

In other violence, the US military said Thursday that two of its soldiers had been killed and one wounded in a bomb attack Wednesday in north Baghdad. The deaths brought the total number of US military personnel who have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to 1,784, according to an AFP tally based on Pentagon figures.

Four Iraqis were killed, including three soldiers, and eight wounded in two separate attacks on checkpoints in and around Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, police said.

And four soldiers and a police officer were killed in attacks in the Samarra area north of the capital, police said.

In the United States the AFL-CIO, the largest US labour federation, called for the rapid return of US troops from Iraq.

“An unending military presence will waste lives and resources, undermine our nation’s security and weaken our military,” the AFL-CIO stated in a resolution adopted at the federation’s convention in Chicago.

The federation, which has nearly 11 million members, also blasted President George W. Bush for misleading the public about the war.

Countries around the world, meanwhile, condemned the murder of two Algerian diplomats — charge d’affaires Ali Belaroussi, 62, and attachب Azzedine Belkadi, 47 — claimed in an Internet statement by the group of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The European Union said the killings would not stop the international community strengthening relations with Baghdad. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also condemned the executions.

Egypt, whose envoy to Baghdad was kidnapped and murdered earlier this month, also condemned the “atrocious” killing of Algerian diplomats.

In a statement on the Internet on Wednesday, the group controlled by Abu Mussab Zarqawi said it had assassinated the diplomats because of Algeria’s support for the United States and failure to implement Islamic Sharia law.

On Thursday the group vowed on its website to target more foreign envoys, and denounced the “infidel” leaders who condemned the slayings.

The Algerian government held a nationwide moment of silence at midday in memory of the murdered diplomats.

And the UN Security Council issued a statement in which it “condemned in the strongest possible terms” the double assassination.

Iraq’s Zebari denounced the killings as a “barbarous act… by a fundamentalist terrorist group,” in comments to reporters.

“Their goal is to sever ties between Iraq and Arab and Muslim countries,” he said, adding: “We shall avail ourselves of the presence of (US-led) coalition troops to offer diplomats better protection.”

Separately, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani gave a show of public support to the head of the special tribunal charged with trying former dictator Saddam Hussein and other members of the ousted regime.

Iraqi investigative judge Raed Juhi has been criticised for his own ties to the former regime.

With Juhi by his side, Talabani told reporters that he will urge all branches of government to fully respect the tribunal’s authority.

Saddam and some of his henchmen have been charged in connection with the 1982 killing of 143 Shiite residents of the village of Dujail, northeast of Baghdad, but face a litany of other charges of crimes against humanity.

In Bucharest, President Traian Basescu announced that Romania will keep its 860-strong military contingent in Iraq “until the Iraqi government asks us to leave.”

He also said it would be “unrealistic” to think that the coalition could withdraw from Iraq before the end of 2006.

A withdrawal that is too fast could “plunge the country into civil war, which would be a disaster,” Basescu said

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