Two senior Iraqi diplomats request asylum in United States |

Two senior Iraqi diplomats request asylum in United States

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Two senior Iraqi diplomats at the United Nations have requested asylum in the United States for themselves and their families, diplomatic and police sources confirmed Tuesday.

Police sources said Mohammed al-Humaimidi, Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, walked into a police station alone on Friday, identified himself and requested political asylum.

Senior diplomatic sources said Fela Hesan al-Rubaie, a senior counselor and the No. 4 at the mission, had also made an asylum request. The diplomatic and police sources all spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Iraqi diplomats were two of three or four diplomats at the Iraqi mission who were scheduled to return home to Iraq this month, according to diplomats.

Al-Rubaie disappeared somewhere in New York two weeks ago, after he and his family failed to show up for a flight out of the United States, diplomats said.

Calls to his New York City home went unanswered Tuesday. The doorman at the luxury Manhattan apartment building where al-Rubaie lived said the family moved out two weeks ago. The apartment lease, which expires at the end of the month, is paid by the Iraqi mission, according to the doorman, who declined to give his name.

As senior diplomats, both men would have detailed knowledge of Saddam Hussein’s foreign policy objectives.

Another diplomat said that as many as three Iraqis apparently made asylum requests. But a police source could only confirm one asylum request.

Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed al-Douri said that three or four career diplomats were supposed to return to Iraq but he did not know if they had. Al-Douri said that he had seen one of the diplomats last week and another this week.

”If someone wants to stay, what can we do?” he told The Associated Press. Al-Douri would not directly confirm or deny whether anyone in the mission had defected.

There was no official confirmation from U.S. authorities.

New York City police officials referred all calls to the U.S. State Department, where spokesman Richard Boucher said ”we don’t discuss alleged asylum requests.”

Officials at the New York district office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and at the Federal Bureau of Investigation would not confirm or deny the report.

Previous defections by Iraqi government officials have caused considerable embarrassment to the Baghdad government.

An Iraqi nuclear physicist defected to the United States in 1994.

A year later, Saddam Hussein’s sons-in-law defected from Iraq to Jordan. The brothers, both married to Saddam’s daughters, were debriefed by Western intelligence officials and reportedly disclosed secrets of Iraq’s military and weapons programs. However, they failed to gain the trust of Iraqi exiles and returned to Baghdad six months later with their families. They were killed within hours of their arrival.

During the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the weightlifter who carried the Iraqi flag in the opening ceremony sneaked out of the Olympic village, hopped into a waiting car and sped off to begin a new life in the United States.

In 1999, Saddam Hussein granted amnesty to Iraqis who left the country illegally after the 1991 Gulf War, apparently hoping to lure back well-educated citizens and weaken the opposition parties in exile, which have funded and taken care of many Iraqi defectors.

The United States is actively supplying Saddam’s political foes with military training and field equipment, though not weapons. In February, the Bush administration cleared $4 million to help dissidents opposed to Saddam build a legal case against him.

After 11 years of U.N. sanctions imposed following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, life for millions in Iraq has become exceedingly difficult.

Saddam has blamed the poor quality of life in Iraq on the sanctions; the United States says he has ignored citizens while spending money on the military and on palaces for himself.

The United Nations has instituted a humanitarian program to help Iraqi civilians with basic food and medicine, but Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said it is not enough to halt the suffering.

Editors: AP Correspondent Donna De La Cruz contributed to this report.

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