- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

NEW YORK — Two senior Iraqi diplomats, faced with the prospect of returning to Baghdad, have requested political asylum for themselves and their families.
News that Iraq's deputy U.N. ambassador and another senior diplomat sought asylum came as Iraq gloated yesterday over the defeat in the Security Council of a U.S.-British plan to revamp sanctions against Baghdad.
Iraq remained silent on the defections, which were disclosed by U.S. officials, police and diplomatic sources.
Similar defections in the past have caused considerable embarrassment to the government of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
A U.S. official last night confirmed that one diplomat from the Iraqi mission entered a New York police station on Friday afternoon and asked for asylum for himself, his wife and his children.
The diplomat, identified by other sources as Mohammed Humaimidi, had served as Iraq's deputy U.N. ambassador for about four years.
"There was a person who defected last week with his family, in New York, from the Iraqi mission," said a U.S. official, who declined to give details.
A second defector, Fela Hesan Rubaie, requested asylum earlier this month, said wire service reports.
Iraq has suffered several embarrassing defections in recent years, including diplomats, athletes and even two of Saddam's sons-in-law, one of whom was assassinated after returning to Iraq amid promises of forgiveness.
Among the best-known defectors is Khidhir Hamza, an Iraqi government physicist who defected in 1994 and last year published a book called "Saddam's Bombmaker." It detailed his experiences trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Police sources told Reuters news agency that Mr. Humaimidi walked into a police station in Manhattan's Upper East Side alone on Friday, identified himself and requested political asylum.
State Department officials, who were called to the precinct, accompanied Mr. Humaimidi to his Manhattan home, where his wife and two of his sons left with a department agent. A third son was not at home, police told Reuters.
The family was moved to a federal facility, the news agency reported.
The other defector, Mr. Rubaie, is said to be an intelligence agent and the fourth-highest Iraqi diplomat at the United Nations.
Ironically, Baghdad spent much of the day celebrating what it considered a humiliating defeat of the United States over sanctions that have been in place since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The Security Council voted yesterday to extend the existing U.N. oil-for-food program for another five months, with barely a mention of changes that had been sought by the United States and Britain but blocked by Russia.
"Iraq will bury any future resolution that does not include the total lifting of sanctions and the payment of compensation for the damages inflicted on the people of Iraq," the Iraqi daily Babil wrote.
Iraq and Russia, its closest ally in the Security Council, had opposed the U.S. effort, which would have eased the sanctions while continuing to ban imports of military hardware.
Diplomats who return to Iraq generally live far better than ordinary Iraqi citizens.
Unless they have fallen out with the regime, they have access to sophisticated health care and medicines, cars and houses, illicitly imported designer merchandise and nearly anything else the privileged could desire.
Mr. Rubaie's wife is said to be ill with cancer, although sources could not say whether that was a factor in their decision to stay here.
U.S. officials could not say how many foreign diplomats have sought refuge in the United States, a matter that usually is handled by the Department of Justice, with State Department input.
In most cases, foreigners in the United States apply to the Justice Department's Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for asylum and then, if warranted, they schedule a hearing before an immigration judge.
The FBI and the INS conduct checks to see if the applicants are legitimate refugees or potential double-agents or terrorists.
Asylum seekers then are either assigned protection, taken into detention or simply assigned a date for an immigration hearing.
Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Douri yesterday declined to comment on the defections, although he had clearly grown tired of the inquiries.
"Three diplomats were to leave, and they did," he said. "If a person does not go, he does not go."
Mr. Douri said his government had requested visas for five new diplomats to serve at the United Nations, and the documents were expected within a few weeks' time.

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