U.S. orders departure of Iraqi embassy staff

January 13, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The State Department, expressing a worry that terrorists might get help from Iraq's embassy staff here, ordered the Iraqi ambassador yesterday to send home 12 of his staff members and their families.

Their departure would leave only Ambassador Mohammed al-Mashat and three of his staff aides at the embassy, so that they could function "as a channel of communication," said State Department press officer Anita Stockman.

She stressed that the U.S. government was not breaking diplomatic relations with Iraq.

The State Department's order was the latest of a series of actions the U.S. government has taken in recent days to reduce the potential for terrorist incidents in this country. The FBI has been intensifying its surveillance of people suspected of ties to terrorism, and other agencies have ordered an increase in security at U.S. airports and at nuclear power plants. The Iraqi diplomatic aides and their families were ordered to depart by no later than midnight Tuesday -- the United Nations Security Council's deadline for Iraq to evacuate occupied Kuwait or face military action.

"Our primary objective" in ordering most of the embassy staff sent home, Ms. Stockman said, "is to reduce Iraq's capability to orchestrate terrorism in the event of gulf hostilities. The government of Iraq has repeatedly threatened to initiate terrorism against the interests of the nations participating in Operation Desert Shield."

In ordering all but four of the Iraqi Embassy's 16 staff members to go home, the State Department did not offer any evidence that the embassy might actually aid terrorist responses to U.S. military action. Outwardly, the gesture appeared to be only a cautionary one, as well as another way to send messages of firmness to Iraq's leaders in Baghdad.

Ambassador al-Mashat was called to the department to be told of the departure order by Acting Assistant Secretary Jacques Covey, Ms. Stockman said.

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