Iraq's U.N. ambassador leaves New York
Aldouri: Saddam is 'no more in the government'
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Before leaving the United States on Friday, Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, said Saddam Hussein is "no more in the government" and that Iraqis are looking forward to "free elections for a free government."
"I will see you, I hope, in a peaceful time with a good friendship between Iraq and United States," Aldouri said outside his official residence in New York.
"I hope that our future will be better for the interests of the United States and Iraq. So, I am very hopeful and very confident for the future."
Aldouri, who had fiercely defended Saddam's regime before the war, was apologetic on this cold, damp spring night, calling Americans a "very decent people," saying he enjoyed New York and telling reporters "Sometimes I was very tough; I am sorry for that."
The ambassador spoke before catching a flight to Paris, France, and then on to Damascus, Syria.
Aldouri became the first Iraqi official to declare the end of Saddam's regime when, besieged by television cameras and photographers Wednesday, he said "the game is over."
Friday, he said he was leaving the United States to find out what has happened to his family in Iraq.
"I have no information from my family from the beginning of the war," Aldouri said. "I will go in the region to ask somebody if there is something -- any kind of information -- about my family. This is the most important reason why I am leaving the United States."
He said he hoped the U.S. military would leave Iraq soon, "and we will have free elections for a free government for a free future for Iraq."
Asked what he knew of Saddam's fate, Aldouri said, "He is no more in the government, so we are looking for the future. The future is the best. The peace we want."
Moments later, he began walking toward his car parked at the curb, but turned and waved to CNN's longtime U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, waved and said, "Richard, good luck."
Aldouri then walked over to Roth, shook his hand and kissed his cheeks. "All the best, all the best," Aldouri said.
He was then driven to the airport.
Earlier in the day, Aldouri -- who became Iraq's U.N. ambassador in February 2001 -- said in an interview with an Arabic-language television network that he had decided to "remove myself in dignity and honor" because the United States would not "give me the free hand to work at the United Nations."
"I represent a country, a people, a civilization that will go on forever. My leaving this office does not mean Iraq will disappear. Iraq will be renewed," Aldouri told the television network Al Arabiya.
Under U.N. rules, even after Aldouri leaves his post, Saddam's government will technically hold its seat until a new government formally presents itself and is approved by the General Assembly.
The Bush administration said it might take at least six months before control is handed to an interim Iraqi authority.
Reuters contributed to this report.