Iraqi Ambassador in China Won't Leave

Published July 18, 2003

| Associated Press

Iraq's ambassador to China has armed himself with pistols and locked other diplomats out of the main Iraqi embassy building in Beijing, refusing orders to return to Baghdad, an Iraqi diplomat said Friday.

Mowaffaq Alani (search) was ordered June 6 to return to Iraq as part of a general recall of ambassadors, said Talal H. Al-Khudairi (search), who said he was asked to take over as representative to China by authorities in Iraq. There was no comment from Baghdad.

Al-Khudairi, the embassy's second-ranking diplomat, said Iraqi diplomats have appealed to China's Foreign Ministry to persuade Alani to leave and permit the embassy to resume normal operations.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said China wanted the Iraqis to handle the dispute themselves.

"In fact we don't have any official contact with the embassy at this time," Kong said.

Alani "took over the embassy by force, using pistols," Al-Khudairi said in an interview. He said Alani's wife was also armed. The embassy compound also houses Alani's residence and a separate residential building.

Al-Khudairi said Alani was barring the other diplomats from the main building and had demanded that three diplomats living in the residential building leave, threatening to shoot them if they refuse.

They remained in the residential building, and other Iraqi diplomats could be seen standing outside the residential building.

Phone calls to the embassy were answered by Al-Khudairi's assistant who said he was unable to transfer calls to Alani's office or residence.

On Thursday afternoon, Alani could be seen from a nearby apartment building strolling inside the compound with his two children. He did not appear to be armed.

The embassy has largely shut down since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 20, although Al-Khudairi said visa issuing and trade functions were expected to resume soon.

All of Iraq's ambassadors have been ordered home by the American occupation forces, although it isn't known how many have complied.

Alani was appointed ambassador to China in January. A loyalist to deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said in an interview in April that the Chinese government has assured his safety under the Geneva Conventions (search) and other treaties.

Alani was expelled by the Philippines in 1991 from his post as first secretary at the Manila embassy after intelligence officials said he was in contact with Iraqi terrorists attempting to bomb a U.S. cultural center there. The bomb exploded prematurely, killing the two suspects.

Al-Khudairi said embassy staff wanted only for Alani to leave.

"We don't have any personal feud," Al-Khudairi said. "He is now an ordinary person who happens to be in the wrong place for the wrong reason."

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