U.S.: Expel Iraqi ambassadors
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration has asked governments around the world to expel all Iraqi ambassadors, temporarily to suspend services at Iraqi embassies and freeze all Iraqi assets in their countries,.
The request went out in a diplomatic cable to all diplomatic posts, asking them to take up the issue with their host governments, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
"We're asking them to suspend Iraq's diplomatic presence in their country because we think the defiance of U.N. resolutions, the ruthless nature of the regime have come to a point where people should no longer want to have their representatives there," he said.
A senior State Department official, when asked if the United States would be willing to strike a deal with Iraqi diplomats willing to share information on the Iraqi regime, said, "I'm sure we would be interested in talking to them."
This move seeks to delegitimize Saddam Hussein's regime and prepare the diplomatic groundwork for a new Iraqi government to install its own representatives once Saddam has been removed from power, another senior administration official told CNN.
This official said embassies could keep their bureaucratic staff, which a new Iraqi government "could or could not decide to work with," once it took power.
It is unclear just how many governments are cooperating with the U.S. request. Australia has announced the expulsion of five Iraqi diplomats and their families, giving them until Sunday to leave the country.
The Australian government last week followed through on a separate U.S. request to expel a diplomat believed to be involved in gathering intelligence for the Iraqi regime. The request was made to about 60 countries
"This course of action is clearly a logical and prudent step in a situation where Australia is engaged in military action against Iraq," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a written statement, adding the closure of the Iraqi Embassy does not constitute a break in diplomatic relations with Iraq as a state.
"Following the conclusion of hostilities, Australia and a new government in Iraq should be able to agree quickly on a resumption of diplomatic representation in Canberra," he said
The call comes as the U.S. closes over a dozen embassies and consulates to the public amid security concerns related to the U.S. military action against Iraq, State Department officials told CNN.
The embassy closures were not directed by the State Department but were decided upon independently by ambassadors at each post.
The State Department is very concerned about the potential for terrorist attacks against American targets. The closures came on the heels of a fresh travel warning to Americans overseas.
The State Department also issued a separate warning to Americans in North Africa and the Middle East, noting that U.S. citizens in the Middle East region face "the risk of attacks by terrorist groups, including those with links to al Qaeda."
The U.S. Embassy in Kuwait is urging U.S. citizens who want to leave the country to contact airlines for reservations while commercial flights are still available.
Many U.S. embassies and consulates are closed in around the world while others are on "authorized departure," which means the State Department will allow and pay for the departure of family members and non-emergency personnel at a particular post on a voluntary basis.