Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Future uncertain as Baghdad's envoy to Beijing resists order to return home

REUTERS , BEIJING

Iraq's ambassador to China is resisting a recall order and has asked China for police protection, fearing other embassy staff who want him to leave, diplomats said yesterday.

Security in and around the Iraqi embassy in Beijing has been stepped up in the past few days with policemen standing guard and a police van parked outside.

Muwafak al-Ani, who submitted his credentials to the Chinese government in January, has ignored orders from the post-war Iraqi government to return home by mid-June, two diplomats said.

Iraqi embassy staff, some armed with pistols, are worried about their future and have insisted al-Ani leave, forcing the ambassador to ask Chinese police for help, diplomats said.

"The ambassador asked China to intervene," a Middle Eastern diplomat told reporters. "He claimed he was threatened."

The Middle Eastern diplomat said the embassy's number two had been ordered by his government to take over. It was unclear if the Iraqi ambassador would give up his position or whether he would leave the country.

Al-Ani and up to seven Iraqi diplomats and their families live in the embassy due to a shoe-string budget after years of economic sanctions on Iraq.

Al-Ani is believed to have met Chinese foreign ministry officials, but neither Al-Ani nor the officials could be reached for comment.

Al-Ani has been involved in diplomatic drama before.

In 1991, the Philippines expelled al-Ani, then a first secretary, after linking him to an attempted bombing of the Thomas Jefferson Library in Manila.

An Iraqi national was killed and another injured when the bomb they were attempting to plant exploded prematurely.

Al-Ani denied involvement in the Manila bombing incident and said then he was returning to Baghdad to join the war against the US.

It was unclear how China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council which opposed the US-led war on Iraq, would respond to the latest crisis. But expulsions of foreign diplomats here are rare.

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