ICRC pulls out of Baghdad

The ICRC Baghdad HQ before the attack in October Keystone

The Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has announced that it is to shut several of its offices in Iraq due to concerns over its staff safety.

This content was published on November 8, 2003 - 15:58

The agency said it would be temporarily closing operations in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.

The decision follows last month's car bombing at the ICRC headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 12 people and prompted the ICRC to reduce its foreign staff in Iraq on a voluntary basis.

It was the first time the neutral agency had come under attack from suicide bombers in its 140-year history.

"We have come to the conclusion that, under the present threat that exists from certain groups and individuals in Iraq, we cannot keep our offices in Baghdad and Basra open any longer," ICRC spokeswoman, Antonella Notari, told swissinfo. "We need, at least, to close them temporarily."

Other ICRC sources said the agency would maintain some operations in northern Iraq, where it would be concentrating on visiting prisoners, re-establishing family contacts and providing emergency aid.

Notari would not confirm where the ICRC would continue its work in the country but said it would try to maintain as many of its most important operations as possible.

No protection

The head of the ICRC, Jacob Kellenberger, told the Zurich "Tages Anzeiger" newspaper that the agency would not to operate in Iraq under military protection because that would be irreconcilable with its policy of independent humanitarian action.

Notari confirmed the decision.

"We made a very conscious decision that we would not accept any military protection," she said. "It wouldn’t be compatible with the independent, impartial and neutral operations we want to lead in Iraq: we cannot be seen as leaning towards one side."

The ICRC has 30 foreign and 600 Iraqi staff in Iraq.

Notari said some of them would have to be let go due to the scaling back of its operations. The ICRC is currently deciding which of the posts held by international employees are essential and who will remain to fill them.

International staff are needed to visit prisoners held by the US-led forces in the country.

Increasing attacks

International organisations have been considering pulling out of Iraq in the light of recent attacks against agencies in the country.

Many of them began scaling back their operations after a truck bomb exploded at the United Nations’ headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, killing 22 people, including the top UN envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The ICRC, which is neutral and based in Geneva, has been in Iraq since 1980.

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In brief

The neutral, Swiss-run agency was founded in 1863 by the Swiss, Henri Dunant.

The ICRC works mainly to protect the victims of conflict by providing humanitarian assistance, conducting prisoner of war visits and monitoring compliance of the Geneva Conventions.

The ICRC is the custodian of the Geneva Conventions, which outline the rules of law in times of war and occupation, including the protection of civilians.

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