Iraqis Defect To U.S.

Elijah Wood, left, and Lindsay Lohan in a scene from Emilio Estevez's "Bobby."
The Weinstein Company/Sam Emerson
Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations and another senior diplomat in the mission have requested asylum in the United States for themselves and their families, diplomatic and police sources confirmed Tuesday.

Police sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified one asylum-seeker as Deputy Ambassador Mohammed al-Humaimidi. Senior diplomatic sources said that Fela Hesan al-Rubaie, a senior counselor and the No. 4 official at the mission also made an asylum request.

The Iraqi diplomats were two of three or four diplomats at the Iraqi mission who were scheduled to return home to Iraq this month, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Al-Rubaie disappeared somewhere in New York two weeks ago, after he and his family failed to show up for a flight out of the United States, according to diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Police sources said that al-Humaimidi walked into a police station alone on Friday, identified himself as the Iraqi ambassador and requested political asylum.

Getting In
According to the INS, asylum can be granted to those who can't go home because they will be persecuted "on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

In 1996 — the latest year for which statistics are available — 128,190 applications for asylum were filed, two-thirds of which were made by Central Americans.

The service cleared 123,000 cases that year and granted asylum in 22 percent of them, comprising close to 19,000 people.

For more on the asylum process, click on these links:

  • Fact Sheet: U.S. Asylum and Refugee Policy
  • Application for asylum
  • The sources say the two Iraqis want asylum for themselves and their families.

    One senior diplomat said a total of three Iraqis apparently made the request to New York police on Friday. The senior diplomat said one asylum-seeker had a wife with a heart condition and that another had children working in the United States.

    Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed al-Douri, said that three or four career diplomats were supposed to return to Iraq but he did not know f they had. Al-Douri said that he had seen one of the diplomats last week and another this week.

    "If someone wants to stay, what can we do?" he told The Associated Press. Al-Douri would not directly confirm or deny the report.

    There was no official confirmation from U.S. authorities. The Police Department referred all calls to the U.S. State Department, which would neither confirm or deny the report.

    "We don't discuss such cases," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

    Officials at the New York district office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and at the Federal Bureau of Investigation also would not confirm or deny the report.

    As senior diplomats, both men would have detailed knowledge of Saddam Hussein's foreign policy objectives.

    Previous defections by Iraqi government officials have caused considerable embarrassment to the Baghdad government.

    An Iraqi nuclear physicist defected to the United States in 1994.

    A year later, Saddam's sons-in-law defected from Iraq to Jordan.

    The brothers, both married to Saddam's daughters, were debriefed by Western intelligence officials and reportedly disclosed secrets of Iraq's military and weapons programs.

    However, they failed to gain the trust of Iraqi exiles and returned to Baghdad six months later with their families. They were killed within hours of their arrival.

    Click here to look back on the Gulf War.

    During the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the weightlifter who carried the Iraqi flag in the opening ceremony sneaked out of the Olympic village, hopped into a waiting car and sped off to begin a new life in the United States.

    In 1999, Saddam granted amnesty to Iraqis who left the country illegally after the 1991 Gulf War, apparently hoping to lure back well-educated citizens and weaken the opposition parties in exile, which have funded and taken care of many Iraqi defectors.

    The United States is actively supplying Saddam's political foes with military training and field equipment, though not weapons. In February, the Bush administration cleared $4 million to help dissidents opposed to Saddam build a legal case against him.

    After 11 years of U.N. sanctions, imposed after Saddam invaded Kuwait and lobbed missiles at Saudi Arabia and Israel, life for millions in Iraq has become exceedingly difficult.

    While the United Nations has instituted a humanitarian program to help Iraqi civilians with basic food and medicine, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said it cannot possibly alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people.

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