Saddam’s Point Man On Western Airwaves Goes Home
PARIS (AP) _ With the departure of the Iraqi ambassador to France, Saddam Hussein has lost his most vocal defender in the West.
Abdul Razzak al-Hashimi set out for home Monday, formally closing diplomatic ties between France and Iraq, which broke relations Feb. 6 with six countries allied against it in the Persian Gulf War.
The envoy, considered Iraq’s senior ambassador in Europe, served as Saddam’s main spokesman in the West. He speaks no French, but his good English and robust defense of his boss assured him air time on British and American television.
The media exposure gave al-Hashimi, as one British newspaper put it, ″a growing reputation as one of Europe’s most hated men.″
It was a role he seemed to thrive on.
In one incident, the Foreign Ministry summoned him to protest after Iraq paraded battered American and British prisoners of war before TV cameras in the war’s early days.
″We have more POWs and unless you declare them they, of course, cannot be treated as war prisoners under the Geneva Convention which we signed in 1956,″ al-Hashimi threatened.
The allies protested that his statement violated the convention. Al-Hashimi never showed he cared.
The clear relish with which the stocky envoy with the bristling mustache fulfilled his functions tended to peeve interviewers.
Speaking on David Frost’s ″Frost on Sunday″ from London, al-Hashimi postulated that Iraq has ″a democratic system ... just the same as the Soviet Union.″
Frost retorted that ″if it wasn’t for your famous mustache, Ambassador, I’d call that a bare-faced lie.″
″I think it’s a matter of opinion,″ al-Hashimi replied.
In France, his frequent appearances on the evening news decreased after officials reportedly counseled against giving too much exposure to the Iraqi viewpoint.
Al-Hashimi clearly preferred television to the print media, which got few interviews. Despite numerous efforts, The Associated Press was unable to speak with him before his departure.
Boarding a Royal Jordanian flight to Amman via Vienna, al-Hashimi was uncharacteristically low key. He said he was sorry about the break in relations.
″France risks losing on all scores, with Iraq and all the Arab countries,″ he said.
France and Iraq, which had close ties during the past 15 years, have not yet announced who will handle their respective interests in one another’s capitals.
Even before the Persian Gulf crisis, al-Hashimi was known for speaking his mind. At a news conference in March, he defended the execution on spy charges of Iranian-born British journalist Farzad Bazoft and Iraq’s refusal to grant Britain’s request for clemency.
″If you ask for clemency, you say please,″ he said.