BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq has recalled its ambassadors from major European countries, the United States, Japan and elsewhere for urgent consultations this week over the diplomatic deadlock in the Persian Gulf crisis.
The recall of important members of Iraq's senior diplomatic corps appeared to some Western officials here to be a sign that President Saddam Hussein is preparing a final diplomatic initiative before the Jan. 15 deadline by which the United Nations Security Council has demanded an unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
Among those recalled were Mohammed al-Mashat, the ambassador to Washington, and Abdul Amir al-
Enbari, the envoy to the United Nations, as well as the ambassadors to London, Paris and Tokyo. The ambassador to Moscow has also been recalled.
By yesterday afternoon, Western officials said they had counted more than two dozen ambassadors, most of them from countries taking part in the coalition arrayed against Iraq, who had been recalled.
Last night, the ambassadors were meeting with senior Foreign Ministry officials, who were not available for comment.
Whatever the precise nature of the consultations, the recall injected an element of drama into the stalemate that has settled heavily over this war-weary country.
The recall followed a series of Iraqi failures to gain support in Arab and European capitals for an Arab mediation initiative to end the crisis, a step that could undermine or divide the international coalition that is holding Iraq to the Jan. 15 deadline under the threat of force.
President Bush offered his own plan for a final round of diplomacy to avert military conflict, but Mr. Bush and Mr. Hussein have not been able to agree on the dates for such talks.
A U.S. official here said he did not see how an exchange of foreign ministers between Washington and Baghdad could occur Jan. 15 unless a dispute over the timing of the visits could be resolved by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, there have been new signs in the past several days that the trade embargo against Iraq, now nearly 5 months old, has hit critical services.
Foreign technicians from the national water authority told a major Asian embassy late last week that supplies of chlorine compounds to purify drinking water in Iraq were critically short and could run out by Jan. 5 or 6.
The technicians reported that a backup filtration system was available but that it would not be sufficient to meet normal purification standards for drinkable water.
A breakdown in Iraq's clean water supplies could worsen the already deteriorating health conditions in Iraq as people continue to hoard goods in anticipation of possible war and medical supplies run short.