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April 10, 2003

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Iraqi Diplomats Abandon Ship Across World
Left Stranded Without a Government, Some Iraqi Diplomats Abandon Ship

The Associated Press

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BERLIN April 10

As Saddam Hussein's government collapsed, Iraqi diplomats were jumping ship, burning documents or at the very least left stranded in their embassies without orders and unsure of who their new boss will be.

Across the world, Iraqi diplomats were in limbo Thursday, though none made quite the abrupt about-face of their U.N. ambassador, who suddenly claimed "no relationship" with Saddam after weeks of swaggering rhetoric.

"The game is over," U.N. ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri told reporters outside his New York City residence before reportedly fleeing the country.

Al-Douri, the man who recently mocked the coalition for expecting to be welcomed in Iraq with "hugs" and "flowers," had a new mission.

"My work now is peace," Al-Douri said Wednesday. "I hope the peace will prevail. I hope the Iraqi people will have a happy life."

The "no relationship with Saddam" theme was echoed by other diplomats.

"I haven't had contact with Baghdad for two or three weeks," Muaead Hussain, the Iraqi charge d'affaires in Berlin, said through the locked iron gate of his embassy Thursday. "I have no idea what's going on there."

Hussain insisted he still represented Saddam's government. But asked whether he might switch allegiance, he said: "Why not? I am serving my country."

The scene was peaceful outside the three-story villa on a tree-lined suburban street a contrast with last August when the embassy was stormed by a group of Iraqis who took four hostages, including Hussain, for hours demanding Saddam Hussein's ouster. Six people are on trial in Berlin over the siege.

But Hussain said he was not worried about security. Police increased their presence outside the embassy after regime opponents broke into an Iraqi diplomatic office in London on Wednesday.

Where a single police officer stood guard outside the Berlin embassy previously, several were now on patrol, including one with a submachine gun. Inside the embassy, blinds and drapes were drawn.

Security also was visibly tighter Thursday around the Iraqi Embassy in Cairo, with a large police truck parked nearby.

Many Iraqi embassies were decimated after European governments, under U.S. pressure, expelled Baghdad's diplomats in recent weeks. In Berlin, Hussain said he was one of only two diplomats left.

Elsewhere, there was housecleaning to attend to.

After televised images showed Saddam's statue come tumbling down in Baghdad, Iraqi diplomats in Brazil carried box after box of papers out of their embassy and set them on fire. Then they denied police reports that documents were being destroyed.

"It's all lies," said Brazilian embassy official Abdu Saif. "We are only burning garbage and recently cut grass."

In Tokyo, Iraqi diplomats hauled garbage bags stuffed with shredded documents out of the embassy. Neighbors whispered that the amount of trash was three times the usual level.

Many diplomats refused to speak to reporters about their future. Some acknowledged that Saddam was history.

"There is no clear picture. The collapse happened so quickly," said First Secretary Talal Waleed at the embassy in Bangkok. He called Saddam's regime "the former government."

In Vienna, Austria, the Iraqi Embassy said its staff was calm but clueless about who was in charge back home.

"We are waiting," said an embassy official who refused to give his name.

But in Vietnam, Ambassador Salah Al-Mukhtar remained defiant. He said Iraqis were still fighting an enemy that had fabricated "Hollywood lies."

Though there were no reports yet of Iraqi diplomats seeking asylum, governments were not expecting them to remain in place much longer.

"It is up to Iraq and the incoming authorities to decide what to do about sending new representatives," said a Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Patrick Herman

In Stockholm, about 20 Iraqi Kurds gathered outside their country's embassy late Wednesday and urged the three remaining diplomats via bullhorns to seek political asylum in Sweden.

While angry Iraqis were tearing down pictures of Saddam all over their country, it was a different story Thursday at Baghdad's diplomatic outpost in Paris.

At least two huge portraits, including one showing the Iraqi president with a chest full of military medals, hung in the Iraqi interests section of the Moroccan Embassy.

"I have been here for a few months," said a nervous young man named Omar Ahmed who called himself only an official. "Yes, I like it very much."

"What am I going to do now?" he said. "Well, I am working here, for our embassy. No more questions, please."

Associated Press writers Kevin Costelloe in Paris, Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Vanessa Gera in Vienna, Donna Bryson in Cairo and Veronika Oleksyn in Brussels contributed to this report.

photo credit and caption:
Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammed Al-Douri leaves his residence in New York Wednesday, April 9, 2003. U.S. Marine and Army units swept through Baghdad on Wednesday, as U.S. commanders said Saddam Hussein's control over the capital was coming to an end. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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