Saddam Who? Diplomats Jump Ship

Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammed Al-Douri leaves the Iraqi consulate 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.
After weeks of swaggering rhetoric, Iraq's U.N. ambassador has made an abrupt about-face, claiming he has "no relationship" with Saddam Hussein and "no communication" with the regime.

How did Mohammed Al-Douri know the game was up?

"I watch the television just like you," he told reporters Wednesday outside his New York City residence — before reportedly fleeing to Paris.

From Brasilia to Bangkok, Iraqi diplomats were abandoning ship, apparently fearful they would be implicated in the evils of Saddam's dying regime.

"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's ouster.

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.

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.

In Thailand, diplomats were hedging bets — resigned to going home if expelled but willing to stick around if a new Iraqi regime wants to hire them.

"There is no clear picture. The collapse happened so quickly," embassy first secretary Talal Waleed Waleed said, repeatedly referring to Saddam's regime as "the former government."

Waleed said events back home were taking their toll on his family.

"My wife is crying nonstop," he said.

In New York, al-Douri — the man who recently mocked the coalition for expecting to be welcomed in Iraq by "hugs" and "flowers" — said with a shrug: "The game is over."

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

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."

Officials in Iraq's embassy in Brazil initially denied police reports that documents were being destroyed.

"It's all lies," said Abdu Saif, secretary to Iraqi Ambassador Jarallah Alobaidy. "We are only burning garbage and recently cut grass."

But a second call, answered by an unidentified employee, produced the message "I'm not working now" and a quick hang-up.

In Sweden, a spokesman for the Iraqi embassy appeared unsure whether their operation would remain open — and if it did, who might be giving the orders.

"We don't know anything," spokesman Jamal Abdulrazak told The Associated Press. "All we know is what we see on television. We are just officials. We have not received orders from the ex-government or a new government."

Abdulrazak was one of three Iraqi diplomats left in Sweden; last month, Swedish officials banished two others for allegedly spying on Iraqi exiles. The embassy in Stockholm is Iraq's only diplomatic outpost in the Nordic and Baltic countries.

"If they want us to stay, we stay," Abdulrazak said. "If they want us to go home, we go home. We are Iraqi. We do our job."

In Moscow, reporters tried unsuccessfully to contact Iraq's ambassador about a report that Saddam had taken refuge at the Russian Embassy in Baghdad. It was left to Russia's foreign minister to deny the report.

Many Iraqi embassies were decimated after European governments, under U.S. pressure, expelled Baghdad's diplomats in recent weeks.

Though there were no immediate reports of Iraqi diplomats seeking asylum in Europe, 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, who added that he could see those decisions made within days.