An Iraqi diplomat on Monday said it was unclear if Muwafak al-Ani, appointed ambassador by ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in January and recalled by Iraq’s occupying administrator in June, had left China or would be allowed to remain in the country.

Talal Al-Khudairi, de facto ambassador at the Iraqi complex in Beijing, said al-Ani left the embassy on 31 July.

Two independent diplomatic sources said the United States has asked China to expel Muwafak and make him persona non grata.

The standoff was a dilemma for China, reluctant to expel al-Ani in case the move upset other Arab countries or compromise Beijing’s official position on the overthrow of Hussein.

"We don't want to offend the Americans, but we also don't want to offend our Muslim friends around the world," said a Chinese government source who asked not to be named.

China is eager to recover billions of dollars in debts from
the post-war Iraqi government. But it is also wary about
upsetting about 80 million Chinese-Hui Muslims, many of whom
are anti-American and sympathetic towards Hussein and al-Ani.

A Chinese Muslim who asked not to be identified said al-Ani
was staying with him in the northeastern city of Shenyang, but this could not be independently confirmed.

He said al-Ani had resisted the recall order because he
considered the post-war Iraqi authorities a puppet of
Washington.

Al-Ani was also expelled from
Manila

China's foreign ministry said it has cut off contact with the Iraqi embassy since June but had no immediate comment on the reported US expulsion request.

The US embassy also declined to comment.

Alleged assault

China, a permanent United Nations Security Council member which opposed Washington's war against Baghdad, described the standoff as an "internal problem".

But Al-Khudairi said Al-Ani was wanted by Iraqi authorities for "armed assualt" on the embassy and preventing staff from working.

This is not Al-Ani's first time in the spotlight.

In 1991, the Philippines expelled him, then a first secretary, after he was linked to an attempted bombing of a US library in Manila.