- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

NEW YORK — Saddam Hussein might be gone, but his diplomats are still in their U.N. offices, supported by Saddam holdovers working in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

“They are civil servants, they serve Iraq, they can stay as long as they want,” said Akila Al Hashimi, acting deputy director-general of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry under the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that runs Iraq.

Ms. Al Hashimi, who served in Saddam’s ousted regime and who four months ago warned Third World countries that the American war machine would roll over them after invading Iraq, was hand-picked by the provisional authority to represent her country at a recent U.N.-sponsored donors conference.

Iraq, she said, was ready to “participate in the international community.”

“It needs the joint efforts of all parties. It needs to hold hands with others so that it can meet its reconstruction needs, strengthen its economy and its abilities in accordance with contemporary international norms,” she said last week.

But at least one senior member of the provisional authority was not pleased with Saddam’s diplomats still working at the United Nations in New York as well as the U.N. European offices in Geneva and Vienna, Austria.

“They do not belong there,” said the senior member, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They represent no one. They are doing nothing. We will ask countries in which they operate to send them home.”

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the diplomats in New York, Geneva and Vienna could remain in their posts until they were replaced. “Until someone challenges the credentials in the General Assembly, they can still maintain them,” Mr. Haq said.

The U.N. General Assembly has a credentials committee that addresses challenges, then refers its decision to the full assembly. A simple majority vote is then needed for any formal action.

When diplomats are sent to the United Nations they are given credentials by the General Assembly and granted diplomatic status by the United States as host government.

So far, no one — neither the United Nations nor the United States — has challenged the status of the Iraqi diplomats.

“It’s obviously a little surreal,” said one U.N. official, but spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was not the first time that representation at the United Nations did not reflect the facts on the ground.

The latest example of that, he said, was Afghanistan, which during the Taliban regime years actually was represented by the dissident Northern Alliance while the Taliban had unofficial representatives based in the New York City borough of Queens.

“They obviously have not been asked to address any meetings,” Mr. Dujarric said of the four or five Iraqi diplomats left at the United Nations.

Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed al-Douri and his deputy left of their own accord shortly after the war began.

A number of other Iraqi diplomats at the United Nations were expelled by the United States prior to the conflict.

Reached by telephone, an Iraqi representative at the U.N. mission declined to comment.

According to a U.S. official, the Iraqi diplomats who have remained are lower-level administrative staff who have already been vetted by U.S. security.

“There are no concerns about these,” he said, adding that the diplomats’ role in the world organization was minimal. “They are not on the radar screen of countries that need to be wooed.”

Richard A. Grenell, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, confirmed that none of the delegates is a security concern.

“We will make sure that no one visiting the country is abusing their privilege of residence,” he said. “Our national security is obviously the priority.”

The U.S. official, who asked not to be identified, said the diplomats were likely being paid from a large account of the Iraqi mission that was frozen soon after the war started so that it would not be used by those diplomats wanting to flee the country.

“That money will continue there until an Iraqi government is established and they appoint a new ambassador. It could be a while,” he said.

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