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US Asks Countries to Expel Suspected Iraq Intelligence Officials - 2003-03-28

The State Department said it has asked unspecified number of countries to expel suspected Iraqi intelligence officials after turning up information they were planning terrorist attacks against U.S. interests. It said specific plots in two countries have been broken up and Iraqi agents arrested.

The Bush administration had been pressing countries around the world to expel Iraqi intelligence agents working under diplomatic cover, even before the outbreak of the war March 20.

But it has sharpened those requests in light of what State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said is the receipt by the United States of information of "widespread" terrorist planning against U.S. interests by Iraqi intelligence officers.

In a hastily-arranged meeting with reporters, the spokesman said specific plots have already been broken up in two countries. "In recent days, we received information regarding specific terrorist plots in two countries involving Iraqi intelligence officers. In both cases, operatives were arrested and terrorist material confiscated. The planned attacks were not successful," Mr. Boucher said.

Mr. Boucher did not identify the countries involved, but other officials said both were in the Middle East. One is understood to have been Jordan, which expelled several Iraqi diplomats earlier this week.

A senior State Department official said a total of 17 countries had expelled Iraqi agents in response to the initial U.S. alert, which went out early this month. The United States has also asked the more than 60 countries hosting Iraqi embassies and consulates world-wide to expel their chiefs of missions and freeze their assets in anticipation of a war-induced change of government in Baghdad.

Last week, the administration expelled the three remaining Iraqi diplomats in Washington, who had staffed an Iraqi "interests section" within the embassy of Algeria.