Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton is an auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Detroit. An incorrect diocese was reported in an article Saturday. (Published 12/11/90)

BAGHDAD, IRAQ, DEC. 7 -- Anxiety and impatience swelled today among the 2,000 Westerners held hostage in Iraq, as the nation's parliament approved their release but diplomats were frustrated in their efforts to pin down details about when the captives would be evacuated.

"You're on emotional thin ice, and all the sudden things just well up," said American hostage Robert Vinton.

Vinton got a graphic demonstration of how little freedom he really had gained. When he tried to leave the government-operated Mansour Melia Hotel to buy clothes this afternoon, he got into a scuffle with Iraqi security guards, who dragged him back into the hotel.

The hostages are "feeling pretty tense. They're beginning to feel the weight of the restrictions," said Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Chicago, who accompanied 18 American relatives of hostages to Iraq this week to plead for their release. "They've been through all this anxiety for months and when it seems so close . . . they are still restricted to the hotel with no word on when they can leave."

One day after President Saddam Hussein announced that all foreigners held in Iraq would be freed, U.S. diplomats scrambled to make departure arrangements as negotiations began with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry over the tricky question of which airlines will be used to fly out foreigners.

U.S. Embassy charge d'affaires Joseph Wilson met with Foreign Ministry officials on the matter of flights and exit visa processing, but he received no firm confirmation that any arrangements had been made, he said.

"I guarantee we will get them out as soon as we can," Wilson said.

"{The Iraqis} hold all the cards," said another American diplomat.

In an interview with ABC News's "Nightline," Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz said that, while "technical arrangements" still had to be made for the hostages' release, "I think that by Christmas everybody could leave."

"We can facilitate the travel of a great number every day," Aziz said. But, he warned, "it's not going to happen in one day. It needs a few days for all the foreign nationals to leave. But they will be allowed to leave normally."

Because of the worldwide economic sanctions imposed against Iraq after its forces occupied Kuwait on Aug. 2, most countries have prohibited Iraqi Airways from landing on their soil. The government here has reciprocated by banning virtually all flights except those of its own airline. Iraqi Airways currently operates one flight a day to Amman, Jordan.

A British Airways jetliner stocked with chilled champagne and bound for Iraq to fly out British hostages was diverted to Amman when confusion arose over its clearance to land in Iraq, the Associated Press reported.

Iraq's civil aviation authorities gave clearance, a British Airways spokesman said, but the airline kept the flight in Amman because a news report from Iraq quoted an unidentified official as saying permission had been denied.

U.S. Embassy officials said they are prepared to bring in charter planes and are arranging for special travel documents for American hostages whose passports have been confiscated. Their task was complicated by the fact that Friday is the Moslem Sabbath. Many officials were not at work today.

Many of the hostages and their families have been critical of the State Department's handling of the hostage issue, asserting that they have not been kept informed of developments and that the hostages' plight has been given a low priority in Washington.

This morning, as fatigue and impatience followed Thursday's euphoria, Wilson met with a group of hostages and their relatives and outlined his efforts and the difficulties they still face. He met with a sober response.

"The hassles are not political now; the hassle will be practicalities," Wilson told the quiet group in the Mansour Melia's dim bar. "Even if you're angry now and your anger is directed at the U.S. government, my shoulders are fairly big. I can accept that. This has been a trying experience for all of you. This has been a trying time for me as well."

"I know they're all feeling it. This is so hard for them," said Petrica Brown, wife of hostage Pete Brown, of Sarasota, Fla. "Pete has never been a teary person, and last night I saw him with tears welling up."

On Thursday, Saddam announced his intention to free the thousands of foreigners being held in Iraq as insurance against attack by the international forces that assembled in the Persian Gulf region after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. An estimated 2,000 of the hostages are Westerners, including 750 Americans.

Today Iraq's 250-member National Assembly, widely considered little more than a rubber stamp for Saddam's decrees, approved the move by a 235 to 15 vote. One dissenter said all hostages except the Americans and British should be allowed to leave, while another proposed waiting until Jan. 15, the deadline established in a U.N. resolution for withdrawal from Kuwait.

In a statement released Thursday, Saddam explained his decision by citing appeals by Arab leaders and European legislators, as well as assertions in the U.S. Congress that the Bush administration should not rush into war and should give sanctions time to work.

Diplomats today said they believed Saddam is trying to take advantage of a perceived division between the White House and the American people and some members of Congress just before Aziz travels to Washington for talks with President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

"This is a move from {Aziz's} side to try to have a more promising dialogue," said one diplomat. The Iraqis are "giving something so, when he goes to Washington, dialogue will be less tense."

While diplomats agreed that Saddam wants to remove the hostages as an issue in the upcoming discussion, they said Saddam also realized that their detention was becoming counterproductive.

Saddam's use of the media in an attempt to show his human side in dealing with the captives, in which he had hoped to appeal over the heads of government officials to ordinary people, has backfired, they said in separate interviews. Instead, people viewed his meetings with captive women and children as a cruel taunt that did nothing to remove Saddam's holding of hostages as a possible justification for military action against Iraq.

"I think he realized that keeping hostages would postpone the war, but it would not make it impossible," said one diplomat.