- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 9, 2005

BAGHDAD — Hundreds of U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers have launched new raids against insurgent strongholds in a volatile Sunni province, and the head of Iraq’s karate association became the latest victim of a kidnapping, officials said yesterday.

A provincial official of the country’s largest Shi’ite party was wounded yesterday in an assassination attempt in Mosul, police said, and gunmen fired on the convoy of a provincial governor northeast of Baghdad.

Operation Scimitar started Thursday with raids in the village of Zaidan, 20 miles southeast of Fallujah, the military said. At least 22 suspected insurgents had been detained.

Fallujah, a western Anbar province city 40 miles west of Baghdad, was a major insurgent bastion until U.S. forces overran the city in November.

The military said it did not announce the offensive earlier because commanders did not want to tip off insurgents. The campaign — named after a curved Asian sword — includes 500 Marines from the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team-8, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, the military said.

The head of Iraq’s karate association, meanwhile, was kidnapped south of Baghdad, sports officials said. Ali Shakir was abducted Thursday in Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, said Ahmed Hashim, an official with the National Olympic Committee of Iraq.

It was not clear why Mr. Shakir was taken. Thousands of Iraqis have been abducted during the past two years — some by insurgents for political and sectarian reasons and some by criminal gangs for ransom.

Mr. Shakir’s abduction came two days after a Web site claimed that al Qaeda in Iraq had killed Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sherif, who was seized by up to eight gunmen on a street in western Baghdad last weekend.

Mr. al-Sherif’s abduction and attacks against Pakistani and Bahraini envoys have sent shock waves through the diplomatic community in Iraq and raised concerns about an exodus of diplomats, especially Arab delegations.

Neighboring Jordan said it would not bow to fear. Jordan will send its ambassador to Iraq “sooner rather than later,” King Abdullah II said in a CNN interview aired yesterday. “We are not going to allow again these limited extremists that are trying to destabilize the future of Iraq to have any effect,” he said.

Jordan, a moderate Arab state and a close U.S. ally, previously said it would return its ambassador to Baghdad, but Abdullah’s confirmation was Amman’s first since Mr. al-Sherif’s disappearance.

Egyptian and Iraqi officials said Egypt would close its mission in Iraq temporarily and recall its staff. Mr. al-Sherif’s body has not been found and the Web statement contained no photographic evidence of his death.

Pakistani Ambassador Mohammed Younis Khan left the country Wednesday after his convoy came under fire in a kidnap attempt. Bahrain’s top envoy, Hassan Malallah al-Ansari, was expected to leave soon after he was slightly wounded in a separate attempt.

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