ICRC to reassess role in Iraq after bombing

The devastation outside the ICRC building in Baghdad on Monday Keystone

Following Monday’s deadly suicide attack on its offices in Baghdad, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it planned to review its operations in Iraq.

This content was published on October 27, 2003 minutes

The bomb explosion at the ICRC buildings killed two of the organisation's employees, along with an estimated ten other people.

"The ICRC condemns this attack in the strongest terms and expresses its heartfelt sympathy to the victims and their families," the organisation said in a statement.

"All deliberate attacks causing death or injury among civilians are strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law and negate the most basic principles of humanity," it continued.

The neutral, Swiss-run agency said it was not in a position to give further details concerning the explosion but added that it planned to reassess its working conditions in Baghdad over the coming days.

Ongoing commitment

Nada Doumani, a spokeswoman for the ICRC in Baghdad, told reporters she hoped the blast would not deter humanitarian efforts in the region.

“We believe we have to stay here because we do have an important job to do here for the Iraqis,” she said.

But she added that the attacks were likely to have a serious impact on the ICRC's work, despite its ongoing commitment to stay in the country.

“This is a hideous act, a reprehensible act against the ICRC. Without a doubt what happened today will affect any decision on what our future role here will be.

“I hope the Iraqis won’t have to pay the price for such individual horrible acts,” she added.

Deadly attacks

Bombers struck four times during Baghdad’s morning rush hour on Monday, killing at least 33 people near the ICRC and three police stations in the city.

Two of the explosions are reported to have been suicide attacks, with the one on the ICRC involving a vehicle marked as an ambulance.

The Swiss foreign ministry condemned the ICRC bombing as an "intolerable act", saying an attack on the agency amounted to an attack on the Iraqi people.

The blasts were carried out a day after a rocket hit Baghdad’s heavily guarded Al Rasheed hotel, where the United States Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, was staying.

Wolfowitz was not hurt, but a US solider was killed and 17 other people were injured in the attack.

Geneva Conventions

The Geneva-based ICRC has been operating in Iraq for the past 20 years, providing humanitarian assistance in the country and monitoring compliance with the Geneva Conventions.

It was the only aid agency to remain active in Iraq throughout the US-led war against Saddam Hussein.

Following August’s deadly bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, the ICRC announced it was scaling back its activities in the country after being warned that it too could be the target of a terror attack.

This left about 50 expatriate staff in the whole of Iraq, with several hundred local staff to assist them in their work.

Death toll

Pascal Jansen, an ICRC official, said two of the people killed in Monday’s blast were Iraqi guards working for the organisation, along with eight casual labourers going past in a lorry.

International staff working for the ICRC were reported to have sustained superficial injuries.

It is still unclear how Monday’s bombings will affect the work of the ICRC, which has so far declined protection from US-led coalition forces in Iraq in an effort to maintain its neutral stance.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva


Several explosions rocked the Iraqi capital of Baghdad during rush hour on Monday, leaving at least 33 people dead and more than 200 injured.

One of the bombings, which was reportedly a suicide attack, took place outside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Geneva-based organisation has been active in Iraq for 20 years but was forced to scale back its operations following August’s deadly blast on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

It is unclear how the attack might affect the ICRC’s work in the country, despite its ongoing commitment to provide humanitarian assistance in the region.

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