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[casi] Aid Groups Reduce Operations in Iraq



Aid Groups Reduce Operations in Iraq
U.N., Red Cross, Others to Withdraw Staff as a Result of Truck Bombing
By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 22, 2003; Page A14
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27363-2003Aug21.html

BAGHDAD, Aug. 21 -- Independent humanitarian operations in Iraq began to erode today as the United 
Nations announced a reduction of about a third of its Baghdad headquarters staff, the International 
Committee of the Red Cross said that an unspecified number of foreign workers would be withdrawn 
and other organizations considered changes in personnel or security arrangements.

 Two days after a truck bomb exploded at U.N. headquarters here, taking the lives of at least 23 
workers and visitors, the organization's coordinator of humanitarian programs, Ramiro Lopez da 
Silva, said that the administrative staff would shrink from about 300 to 200. Those who leave 
Baghdad will take up duties related to Iraq in Jordan and Cyprus, he told reporters.

Other headquarters staff members will resume work at an unspecified location on Saturday, da Silva 
said. The Canal Hotel, which served as the main U.N. office here, was badly damaged by the truck 
bomb, and U.S. soldiers continued to search for one missing person among the slabs of concrete, 
broken ceilings and shattered glass.

U.N. officials said they would beef up security at their new location but would not request large 
numbers of U.S. or allied forces. U.N. officials say they don't want their facilities to look like 
an armed camp.

"We always remain a soft target, and we are conscious of that," da Silva told reporters. "We cannot 
create a division between us and the people we serve. The presence of coalition forces does 
intimidate some of the people we need to work with."

A spokeswoman for the Red Cross, Nada Doumani, said her organization had decided to withdraw some 
expatriates. The Red Cross had taken steps to limit travel of employees among Iraqi cities after 
one was killed in an ambush last month. Administrative staff members have dispersed to other Iraqi 
cities to avoid having to travel, she said.

"It is all related to the local security situation, and actually to the security problem in the 
Middle East," Doumani said. The number of Baghdad Red Cross workers to be withdrawn was still being 
worked out, she added.

Typically, if the United Nations and Red Cross reduce services or personnel in dangerous countries, 
other aid organizations follow. In Baghdad, foreign relief groups were keeping a low profile. The 
only reports of a shutdown involved the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Each 
withdrew its small staff from Iraq Wednesday.

Aid agencies perform numerous functions that indirectly ease the pressure on the U.S. 
administration in Iraq to provide basic services. The U.N. World Food Program feeds millions of 
Iraqis, and a variety of organizations provide health care, sanitation and clean water. The U.N. 
Development Program is working to fix Iraq's tattered electrical power network.

Staff reductions seemed to be a common topic among aid agencies. The Italian Red Cross field 
hospital said it would reduce its workforce of 70 by about a third. The Italians broke Red Cross 
custom in April by placing armed police on the grounds of their hospital. Today, they were shoring 
up the perimeter with sand and cement blocks. "We decided that we needed to strengthen our passive 
defense," said Fabio Strinati, a hospital official.

At the offices of CARE, a group that provides health and nutritional aid to children and is 
undertaking other rebuilding efforts, an official would say only: "We are staying. We just don't 
want to wave a banner about it."

In the United States, Pat Carey, a CARE vice president, suggested that cutbacks could hurt the 
group's mission. "We're continuing our operations in Iraq and we intend to carry on with the 
programs that we currently have," he said. "But we do want to step back and think through the 
security implications."

An official of a medical relief agency in Baghdad, who asked not to be identified, said: "The aid 
community is reluctant to speak much about leaving or cutting back. No one wants to start a 
stampede."

A claim of responsibility for the explosion emerged today in a letter faxed to the Al-Arabiya 
satellite television network in Dubai. There was no way to confirm that the heretofore unknown 
group, the Armed Vanguards of the Second Army of Mohammed, actually carried out the attack -- or 
even exists -- but the letter said the attack was meant to shed "Crusader blood."

The death toll of U.S. soldiers continued to rise. Wednesday night, a soldier from the 1st Armored 
Division was killed by a roadside blast, in a tactic that has become increasingly common. 
Sixty-three U.S. troops have been killed by hostile action since President Bush declared major 
combat over on May 1.

Ahmed Ibrahim, the Iraqi deputy interior minister, appealed to Iraqis to inform the appropriate 
people of suspicious activities. "Iraqis protect themselves when they inform," he said.

 2003 The Washington Post Company

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