BAGHDAD, Iraq – A Sunni Arab group called on Sunnis to take part in future elections on Monday and a leading Sunni hardline cleric condemned kidnappings, as police searched for a top Egyptian diplomat seized over the weekend.
Sunnis boycotted the Jan. 30 vote, which went overwhelmingly to Shiites — an outcome that boosted the Sunni-led insurgency by convincing many Sunnis they would be marginalized in the new Iraq.
Political efforts to encourage Sunni extremists to join in the building of a new Iraq received a boost Monday when Dr. Adnan Al-Dulami (search), spokesman of the General Conference for Sunnis in Iraq, called on Sunnis "to organize themselves to take part in the coming elections and to start to register their names at the offices of the electoral commission."
He said Sunni clerics would soon issue a religious decree repeating the call. Clerics were at the forefront of boycott calls before the January election.
More than 1,400 people have been killed in insurgent attacks since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) announced his new government, dominated by Shiites and Kurds, on April 28. Sunni Arabs make up the core of a violent insurgency.
In Cairo, the family of the kidnapped Egyptian envoy, Ihab al-Sherif (search), said they had received no message from the kidnappers. Witnesses said the kidnappers accused al-Sherif of being an "American spy" and shoved him into the trunk of a car after he stopped at a shop to buy a newspaper.
Egypt announced last month that it would become the first Arab country to post an ambassador to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"This kidnapping is an attempt to block the way for Arab diplomatic acceptance," said Dr. Abbas al-Bayati, a member of the parliament's foreign relations committee. Al-Bayati said the abduction was "intended to isolate Iraq from the rest of the world."
In what may be a hopeful sign, a hardline Sunni Arab cleric, Harith al-Dhari, condemned all kidnappings, calling them "a bad phenomenon that emerged after the occupation of Iraq by America and its allies."
Al-Dhari heads the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is believed to have contacts with some insurgent groups. Sunni Arabs are estimated to make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.
In another sign of increased Sunni involvement in the government, however, Humam Hammoudi, head of the committee to draft a new constitution, said 15 Sunnis were approved Monday to join the committee and would begin work Wednesday. The inclusion of Sunnis on the committee had been delayed because majority Shiites and Kurds had accused nominees of links to Saddam's Baath party.
Also Monday, U.S. and Iraqi troops swept through a western Baghdad neighborhood, arresting about 100 suspected insurgents in a fresh crackdown near the city's airport.
The sweep began before dawn Monday and was aimed at insurgent safe houses near Baghdad International Airport, the U.S. military said. U.S. officials said foreign fighters — including Egyptians — were among the 100 suspected insurgents arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
President Bush said the insurgents in Iraq will not stop democracy there and U.S. forces will stay "until the fight is won." "Terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom," Bush said in a speech in West Virginia marking Independence Day.
Underscoring the challenges facing Iraq's government, a car bomber struck an Iraqi army convoy in Fallujah, the former rebel bastion overrun by U.S. troops last year, killing at least three civilians, witnesses and hospital officials said. Nine civilians were injured in the attack late Monday.
Elsewhere, gunmen seized eight Iraqis as they drove to work at a U.S. base in Baqouba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, said police Col. Modhafar al-Majmaie. A car bomb killed two civilians in western Baghdad, police said.
In separate incidents in Mosul, gunmen killed a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Party's Mosul branch and a bodyguard of the provincial Nineveh governor, officials said.
In Tal Afar, about 30 miles west of Mosul, gunmen assassinated a council member, Abdul Kareem Suleiman, officials said.