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No Immunity for Post-Saddam Diplomats in Iraq, says US - 2003-05-29

The United States says diplomats who remained in Baghdad after the ouster of the Saddam Hussein government no longer enjoy diplomatic immunity and related privileges. The comments followed a raid by U.S. troops early Wednesday at the Palestinian mission in Baghdad that U.S. officials say netted a number of weapons.

Palestinian officials have complained bitterly about the U.S. raid, which occurred early Wednesday morning in the diplomatic area of Baghdad, not far from the scene of a bomb attack on a military convoy Monday that killed a U.S. soldier and wounded three others.

At least eight people were detained in the sweep including, according to a Palestinian spokesman, the charge d'affaires in Baghdad and several other mission employees, all of whom he said were diplomats accredited with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

But at a State Department briefing, spokesman Richard Boucher said holdover diplomats are accredited to a government that no longer exists and thus their diplomatic privileges have lapsed.

He said the United States is advising countries to hold off on sending envoys to Baghdad until a new Iraqi government is formed.

"We discourage foreign diplomats from entering Iraq. There's no Iraqi government for them to interact with," he said. "There's no Iraqi government to grant the privileges and immunities that diplomats would normally have inside a country. And we, in terms of the kind of control we have to exercise at this point, also reserve the right to exclude people who we don't think belong there."

Mr. Boucher said diplomats and liaison officials from a number of countries are working with the U.S.-led civilian authority on reconstruction and humanitarian projects and are welcome in Baghdad. But he said coalition officials had "no right" to grant them formal diplomatic status.

He said State Department experts would look into the status of foreign missions in Baghdad and whether the diplomatic premises themselves retained any legal protection.

Palestinian officials accused U.S. soldiers of ransacking the Baghdad mission in what one described as a criminal act and a breach of diplomatic immunity.

The commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General David McKeirnan, on Thursday confirmed the raid and said troops seized several automatic weapons, hand grenades and a pistol.