Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Iraq raises flag

Iraqi officials yesterday raised the country’s flag above their newly designated embassy, as Arab ambassadors, State Department officials and Iraqis in Washington cheered.

The flag, the old red, black and green banner, went up at 1 p.m. after the State Department recognized the Iraqi Interests Section as the Embassy of Iraq.

The embassy at 1801 P St. NW is the same used by Saddam Hussein‘s dictatorship and earlier Iraqi governments.

Iraqi representative Rend Rahim, who presided over the ceremony, still is awaiting word on whether she will be appointed as ambassador of a sovereign Iraq.

Australian recalled

Australian Ambassador Michael Thawley requested the recall of an Australian intelligence analyst after he left a briefcase full of classified material in a congressional office building, Australian news reports say.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer this week said he accepted the ambassador’s recommendation and ordered Robert Owen-Jones to return to the Foreign Ministry in Canberra.

An Australian Embassy spokesman described Mr. Owen-Jones as an intelligence analyst with the country’s Office of National Assessments, which collects and reviews information collected by foreign intelligence agencies. Mr. Owen-Jones is not a spy, said spokesman Matthew Stuart Francis.

“Australia attaches the highest importance to the proper handling of classified material, and we take security breaches very seriously,” he said.

Mr. Francis said no intelligence material was “compromised” and the State Department did not insist on the removal of Mr. Owen-Jones.

In Australia this week, Mr. Downer downplayed the incident.

“I don’t think it is embarrassing for Australia,” he said. “It’s not an issue of great importance. People often get sent home from posts for all sorts of reasons. That happens several times a year, so I don’t think it’s of earth-shattering important, let me put it to you that way.”

Australian news reports said Mr. Owen-Jones left the briefcase in a congressional office building by mistake. A U.S. official returned the briefcase to the embassy and reported the matter to the State Department. Some Australian officials have questioned some details in those press accounts.

Australian first envoy

Australian diplomat Neil Mules edged out U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte to become the first ambassador to present his credentials to the new Iraqi government.

Mr. Negroponte was the second ambassador to meet with President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, and Danish Ambassador Torben Gettermann was third in line in the first batch of ambassadors to introduce themselves on Tuesday, the day after the United States transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government.

“I was delighted to be able to be the first ambassador to present credentials to the new president of Iraq and to have a brief conversation with him about the future of Australian-Iraqi relations, which are extremely positive,” Mr. Mules told reporters in Baghdad.

Mr. Negroponte told Mr. al-Yawer, “I am very proud to present to you my credentials from President George Bush of the United States. I am honored that he selected me to serve in this most important diplomatic assignment in my foreign service, of the highest priority to our national security and our foreign policy.”

Australia, one of the top U.S. allies in Iraq, has about 850 troops there, down from about 2,000 during the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. Denmark has about 380 soldiers there, while the United States, with about 140,000 troops, has the largest contingent.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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