Insurgents have gunned down two Iraqi foreign ministry officials in a campaign to scupper plans for an Arab League summit in Baghdad in March, officials said on Thursday.
Abduljabbar Abdullah Mukhtar and Jamal Sattar Hussein were shot dead by gunmen using silenced pistols on Wednesday evening, a foreign ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mukhtar, who was the director of the ministry's archives office, and Hussein, who worked in Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari's office, were both shot dead in their vehicles in different parts of Baghdad, the official said.
Their killings followed the murder on Monday of Duraid Ismail Ibrahim, an IT engineer in the National Security Ministry, who was gunned down near the foreign ministry in central Baghdad, according to an interior ministry official.
"The insurgents are targeting foreign ministry officials and launching attacks near the foreign ministry building in an attempt to prevent the holding of the Arab League summit in Baghdad," a senior Iraqi security official said.
"All the people who launched these attacks, they carried badges of the security forces that helped them pass through checkpoints very easily with their weapons," added the official, who did not want to be identified.
On 7 January, an Islamist group issued a threat against countries planning to take part in the March summit, in a statement posted on a jihadist website.
"The meeting of these tyrants in Baghdad forms part of American plans to normalise relations with the occupation government" in Iraq, the statement from Ansar al-Islam read.
"Everyone must know Iraq is under the occupation of the Crusaders and that only the non-believers can legitimise the impious government," it said, referring to the administration of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.
Iraq has not hosted an Arab League summit since 1978, although an extraordinary meeting of leaders took place in 1990.
The government has announced a programme to refurbish Baghdad, still suffering from the effects of years of war, and six of the capital's major hotels are being renovated at a cost of $300 million in time for the summit.