BAGHDAD, Iraq – The rope on the flagpole is still broken. The timber and stone building is deteriorating. But on Monday, British diplomats were back in Baghdad.
Britain reopened what used to be its Baghdad embassy shortly after dawn, claiming to be the first country that evacuated diplomats before the 1991 Gulf War (search) to re-establish a permanent presence in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
The British move was also significant because Britain was part of the U.S.-led coalition that ousted Saddam's (search) regime.
About a dozen British soldiers, carrying assault rifles and machine guns, guarded the compound Monday.
Christopher Segar, who helped close the British mission in 1991, heads the new office. However, he won't be appointed ambassador and the mission will not be formally called an embassy until a new Iraqi government is in place.
"I see this as a symbol of the commitment of our government to work with the Iraqi people toward re-establishing those connections and ties between our two countries ... which were so important in the past," Segar said, standing in front of the sandstone Ottoman building that served as the British Embassy since the 1920s.
The building has decayed over the past decade, and the four British officials reopening the mission will initially work in five modified freight containers coming from Kuwait.
The mission also faces other problems. The rope to the flagpole has broken and officials will not be able to hoist the Union Jack until they find a new rope. Last week, however, one British officer said portraits of Queen Elizabeth II still remained inside.
The British Embassy closed in January 1991, days before the start of the Gulf War that expelled Saddam's forces from neighboring Kuwait.