ICRC to remove staff from Iraq after terror threat

The ICRC will leave a skeleton staff to carry out humanitarian work in Iraq Keystone

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has decided to scale down its activities in Iraq after being warned it could be the target of a terror attack.

This content was published on August 25, 2003 - 19:56

The Geneva-based organisation is reconsidering its position after last week’s deadly attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

Florian Westphal, spokesman for the ICRC, told swissinfo that the organisation had no idea why it might be attacked but could not afford to take any chances.

“We really have no choice but to tighten further our security – we owe it to our staff,” Westphal said.

The ICRC’s scaled down operations will leave about 50 expatriate staff in the whole of Iraq, with several hundred local staff to assist them in their work.

This reduction in capacity will have a direct impact on the organisation’s humanitarian work in the field.

Westphal said it was a major concern that the ICRC would have to suspend certain services, such as helping people to trace missing relatives.

However, he added that the organisation planned to keep on visiting people detained by coalition forces in line with its mandate under the Geneva Conventions.


Westphal stressed that he hoped the recent development would be temporary, adding that the organisation would continue to monitor the situation for signs of improvement.

While the current circumstances were difficult for ICRC staff, “it was probably even more difficult for the average citizen of Baghdad", Westphal said.

“The ICRC would say the main humanitarian need of the population in Baghdad is an improvement in the security situation,” he added.

Last week’s blast at the UN compound left 23 people dead, including the head of the UN mission to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

For the international aid agencies on the ground it was a clear signal that any organisation could be a terror target and that the United States-led forces could not guarantee their security.

The ICRC has suffered at least one staff casualty during the past few months in Iraq.

At the end of July, a Sri Lankan delegate was killed and an Iraqi co-worker injured when their car was ambushed by unknown assailants.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza and Billi Bierling

In brief

The ICRC is to scale down its activities in Iraq.

The move is in response to warnings that it could be a terror target.

About 50 expatriate staff will remain in Iraq, supported by several hundred local workers.

The decision comes a week after the UN headquarters in Baghdad was bombed, killing 23 people.

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