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India Watches Iraq Developments Carefully - 2003-04-10

India's government is watching the situation in Iraq very closely, and hopes the fighting ends soon. Iraqi diplomats in India are struggling to get word from Baghdad.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Navtej Sarna says the Indian government is concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, and hopes law and order will soon be restored in the country.

"Our concern is for the immediate end to the war, for the early withdrawal of the forces, for the humanitarian needs of the people of Iraq, and the question of maintaining the sovereign integrity of Iraq," he said.

After three weeks of fighting, the U.S.-led coalition controls most of Iraq, including Baghdad. The government of Saddam Hussein appears to have collapsed, and none of its senior officials have been seen in more than 24 hours.

Iraq's embassy in New Delhi is open for business. But the embassy's third secretary, who asked to be identified only as Haitham, says the eight Iraqi diplomats have had no contact with Baghdad for nearly two weeks.

Their main concern, he says, is for family members in Iraq.

"They are looking for their families. Since nine days, we have had no connection with our families," he said. "The situation there [Baghdad] is not clear now. We have received nothing officially. We are here as officials representing our country, just waiting until the situation finishes and becomes clear for us all."

The Iraqi diplomat says he and his colleagues are getting nearly all of their information from Arabic-language television stations, such as al-Jazeera.

He says he and his fellow diplomats are government employees, and will follow any instructions they receive from Baghdad. There is no ambassador in India. The previous ambassador was transferred out of the country some time ago, and no replacement ever arrived.

Across the street from the Iraqi Embassy, at the Vasant Vihar market, businessman Ajay Mittal says he supports the coalition effort to disarm Iraq. But Mr. Mittal, expressing a widely held view in India, says the United States follows a double standard when it comes to fighting the spread of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

"If terrorism is concerned, they follow their own rules," he said. "As far as Pakistan is concerned, they [U.S.] say Pakistan is not interfering in any way in India for the terrorism purposes."

U.S. officials have said India must not use the war to disarm Iraq as a pretext to attack Pakistan. Washington says attempts by India to draw parallels between the Iraq and Kashmir situations are wrong.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring Islamic separatists in Kashmir, a charge Pakistan denies. Two of the three wars the two countries have fought were over the divided province, which is predominately Muslim.