- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

The United States yesterday said it has revoked the diplomatic status of all members of foreign missions in Iraq who have remained in the country after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The question of diplomatic representation in Baghdad arose after U.S. forces raided the Palestinian mission this week, arresting three diplomats and seizing what the unit that carried out the operation called a “book on terrorism.”

It was not immediately clear whether the order affected the status of diplomatic properties, or whether the Palestinian mission was given a lower status than other diplomatic missions because it did not represent a sovereign country.

While the State Department was categorical that the people do not have diplomatic immunity or any other privileges, it allowed for the possibility that the property may still be protected by international rules.

“Certainly, the accreditation of the individuals has lapsed,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters. “Whether the property has some residual status, I will have to check.”

Washington also advised foreign countries against sending new envoys to Baghdad before the election of a new government that can accept their credentials, unless their presence is needed by the U.S.-led interim administration.

“We are discouraging foreign diplomats, in general, from entering Iraq,” Mr. Boucher said. “Certainly, we have the right to allow people to enter and to be there, but that doesn’t give us the right to grant diplomatic status to people in the country.”

The top U.S. military commander in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, said the raid followed a bomb attack Monday close to the Palestinian mission. An American soldier was killed in the blast.

The operation resulted in the seizure of “four AK-47s, seven grenades, one MP-5, four M-9s, a .48-caliber pistol and a book on terrorism,” he said.

“I have not seen the book on terrorism that was reported by the unit that conducted this operation, but I’ll take their word for it,” Gen. McKiernan told a news conference in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

He said that seven Palestinians and a Syrian were detained, but he did not say whether any of them were diplomats.

A spokesman for the Palestinian mission, Mohammed Atta, said charge d’affaires Najjah Abdel Rahman, consul Ibrahim Mohsen and commercial counselor Munir Sobhi were arrested along with six guards and staff and two Iraqi gardeners.

Mr. Atta told Agence France-Presse that the raid, which he said began at midnight Tuesday and lasted 24 hours, was driven by “rancor” against the Palestinians.

“We have nothing to do with any Palestinian factions,” he said. “We are the Palestinian representatives recognized by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.”

An AFP reporter described tapes and documents strewn about the floor, with the boot prints of the soldiers who forced open the doors still visible. Drawers had been pulled out and tossed on the ground.

Mr. Atta said his travel papers had been taken, along with his pistol and his wife’s jewelry. A safe had been destroyed, and the door to the office of the charge d’affaires appeared to have been shot open.

“The three diplomats were arrested Wednesday when they arrived at the embassy. The Americans handcuffed them behind their backs and left them in the sun for hours. Then they put them in a bus with common criminals,” the spokesman said.

He added that U.S. commanders had not answered inquiries about the whereabouts of the staff and had sealed off the area around the mission, in the upscale Amriya area, with 40 armored vehicles during the raid.

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