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Last Updated: Friday, 8 July, 2005, 22:06 GMT 23:06 UK
Egypt to cut Iraq mission staff
Ihab al-Sherif
No images of Ihab al-Sherif's killing were shown
Egypt is to reduce its diplomatic presence in Iraq following the abduction and killing of its ambassador there, the foreign minister says.

"We're taking this step basically to protect mission staff," Ahmed Aboul Gheit told journalists in Cairo.

Ambassador Ihab al-Sherif was kidnapped six days ago. The group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, has said it is behind the attack.

The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned the killing.

In a statement, the Council's 15 members condemned all terrorist attacks in Iraq including the attempt killing of diplomats from Bahrain and Pakistan.

This statement was a show of international solidarity but is unlikely to have any effect on the ground, says the BBC's Susannah Price at the UN.

Cairo is an ally of the US and Iraqi governments.

Mission to remain

Egypt's foreign minister said earlier the reduction of the diplomatic staff would take place because of the "given current circumstances and for a set period of time".

We certainly recognise we've got to do something very quickly
Maj Gen William Webster
US commander in Baghdad
"The Egyptian flag will remain, the buildings will remain and the embassy too," Mr Aboul Gheit said.

He did not say when the measure would be implemented or for how long.

Mr Sherif had been in Baghdad since early June. He was abducted in the capital on Saturday. ID cards bearing his name appeared on a website on Wednesday.

No images of Mr Sherif's killing were shown. It is unclear on what basis the Egyptian government became convinced that he was dead.

Al-Qaeda claims to have beheaded several foreign hostages in Iraq under the leadership of Jordanian-born Zarqawi,.

The group said it had been planning to abduct more foreign envoys in Iraq.

"The reason we delayed the announcement of capturing the ambassador of the dictator Egypt was to be able to capture as many ambassadors as we can," it said.

Bahrain's envoy to Baghdad was hurt in an attack by gunmen earlier this week. The Pakistani envoy to Iraq escaped unhurt after gunmen attacked his vehicle.

Security plans

Egypt's ambassador to the UN, Maged Abdel Aziz, who had called for the meeting, said his government was grateful for the Council's support.

The Egyptian ambassador to the UN said the killing would not deter Egypt from providing assistance to the Iraqi people.

His US counterpart, Ann Paterson, said the US-led multi-national force in Iraq tried to provide an environment where diplomats would be safe but could not give missions specific protection.

Major General William Webster, commander of coalition troops in the Baghdad area, had earlier said the US was discussing plan to protect foreign diplomats in Iraq.

"I'm not sure that, in the end, it will result in US forces directly guarding some of those diplomats," General Webster told reporters.

"We have not finalised our plan yet. But we certainly recognise we've got to do something very quickly," he said.


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