BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte presented his credentials to Iraq’s new interim government Tuesday and vowed to make the joint fight against insurgents his top priority on a day when militants killed three U.S. Marines and at least six Iraqis.
On the first full day since the U.S.-led administration handed the reins of government to the Iraqis, those fighting against the presence of American and other foreign forces displayed both defiance and mercy.
One militant group, believed to be aligned with suspected al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al Zarqawi, released three Turkish captives they had been threatening to behead, saying the gesture was “for the sake of their Muslim brothers.” Two other Turks were expected to be released as well after their employer promised to sever all ties with occupation forces here.
There was no word, however, on the fate of an abducted Lebanese-born U.S. Marine or a Pakistani who had been working as a driver for the now-disbanded administration.
Zarqawi claimed responsibility for decapitating American communications specialist Nicholas Berg last month and a South Korean translator last week, sowing terror and revulsion among most Iraqis. The decision to release the three Turks, who had been held since June 1, may have reflected reluctance to further alienate mainstream Iraqis by killing fellow Muslims from a country that was party to neither the invasion nor the occupation.
Negroponte and the ambassadors of Australia and Denmark formally took their offices in a brief ceremony in a hall of the U.S.-controlled and heavily fortified Green Zone, presenting their portfolios to Interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil Yawer and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
In continuing violence, a roadside bomb detonated in a southeast Baghdad neighborhood as a U.S. convoy was passing, throwing the lead Humvee off the roadway and killing three Marines, according to witness Farhan Toma. U.S. military officials confirmed the blast had hit the convoy but had no further details.
Members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps raise an Iraqi flag Tuesday inside the training base near Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood. Iraqi troops have been training to take over more responsibility.