Final U.S. Charter Flies Out of Baghdad, 30 Americans Aboard
Undated (AP) _ A final evacuation flight landed in Germany Thursday carrying the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait and his staff, who survived a 110-day Iraqi siege of their embassy by living on tuna fish and swimming pool water.
The five U.S. diplomats from Kuwait were among 32 Americans on the Iraqi Airways flight from Baghdad to Germany, the State Department said.
Ambassador Nathaniel Howell, looking thinner from the ordeal and his gray hair longer, told reporters on arrival in Frankfurt that his staff left the embassy ″with the flag flying.″
″We’re very happy to be here. We’re delighted that Americans who wanted to leave did,″ he said.
Asked if the embassy staff had endured, as reported, a diet of tuna sandwiches, Howell deadpanned: ″No, the bread ran out.″
The 50-year-old diplomat declined to speak at length, explaining that ″we haven’t had electriciy and water, hot water, at night for 110 days. So, we’re going to take advantage of that.″
The passengers were booked into a luxury hotel near the airport. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said they would fly to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington on Friday afternoon.
The Americans included 23 private U.S. citizens, the five-member Kuwaiti mission staff and four U.S. officials who joined the flight in Baghdad, Ms. Tutwiler said in Washington. They were among 96 foreigners aboard, she said.
While Iraq was allowing the completion of a blanket hostage release announced one week ago, it accused Washington of lying about a schedule for U.S.-Iraq talks. It denied U.S. reports that Washington had offered 15 possible dates for Secretary of State James A. Baker III’s trip to Baghdad, all of which had been rejected.
Saddam Hussein said Thursday that Iraq wants peace but would fight rather than permit foreign domination of Arab lands and oil.
″We would win and would walk over their corpses and tread on their heads,″ the official Iraqi News Agency quoted him as saying. The Iraqi president has made similar statements in the past.
Howell, his deputy chief of mission, Barbara Bodine, and three other American diplomats in Kuwait left their embassy early Thursday and flew to Baghdad and then Frankfurt aboard a U.S.-chartered Iraqi Airways plane.
A U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad said the compound in Kuwait was left unstaffed but open, and that Iraqi authorities had pledged it would not be disturbed.
The departure of the American diplomats ended a four-month diplomatic standoff between the United States and Iraq. Washington had defied Iraqi orders to close the mission in August.
Gradually, all foreigners but the British and Americans removed their diplomats as Iraq cut off supplies and posted soldiers outside the compounds. The trapped U.S. diplomats subsisted for three months on canned tuna and boiled water from the embassy’s swimming pool, but were allowed emergency supplies in recent weeks.
Howell’s determination before the Iraqi troops made him a hero to the people he protected.
″He’s a hero, like John Wayne,″ said Jack Rinehart of Stover, Mo., who was one of those trapped in the embassy before his release. ″He drank the same dirty water, he slept outside with the flies and the heat.″
The flight was the final U.S. charter evacuating hostages, and was said to be the last chartered by any country. Officials in Baghdad said all foreigners who missed the charter could leave later by regular flights or by ground transportation.
Last week, Iraq announced it would free thousands of foreigners it had detained after its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. Hundreds of them - mostly Americans, Britons and Japanese - were held at strategic sites to deter a feared attack by U.S.-led forces.
U.S. officials said just one former American ″human shield″ remained behind. He was identified as Gary O’Conner of Humble, Texas. Officials said he would go to Basra, Iraq, to finalize his business and leave Iraq at a later date.
Before Thursday’s flight, about 188 Americans had been evacuated from Iraq and Kuwait over the last week. Seventy of those had been in hiding, 86 men were held as ″human shields″ and 32 private citizens had taken refuge in U.S. diplomatic compounds. U.S. officials estimate about 500 Americans - most of them children with dual citizenship - remained behind.
Also Thursday, Iraq’s news agency said Iraq had rejected dates proposed by the United States for Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz’s trip to Washington and Baker’s trip to Baghdad.
The agency, quoting a Foreign Ministry statement, accused Washington of ″spreading untrue reports about the fixing of the dates.″
The State Department says Iraq’s proposed Jan. 12 date for Baker’s visit is too close to the Jan. 15 deadline the United Nations has set for Iraq to relinquish Kuwait or face possible attack.
Washington said Aziz was scheduled to meet President Bush on Monday but that the meeting will not take place unless a date has been set for Baker’s visit.
In another development, a federal judge in Washington on Thursday refused to order Bush to seek permission from Congress before any attack on Iraqi forces but reaffirmed the power of lawmakers to declare war. U.S. District Judge Harold Greene denied a request by 54 Democratic members of Congress for an injunction to force the president to seek a declaration of war before launching an attack in the gulf.