Swiss pull out of Iraq

UN weapons inspectors leaving Baghdad on Tuesday Keystone

Swiss citizens are leaving Iraq following President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave the country or face war.

This content was published on March 18, 2003 - 12:01

Switzerland's last remaining diplomats quit Baghdad on Tuesday to head for neighbouring Jordan.

The two liaison officers drove off towards Amman early on Tuesday, accompanied by a Swiss radio journalist.

The foreign ministry said that after the planned evacuations on Tuesday and Wednesday, around ten Swiss would probably remain in Iraq.

These include two delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a priest who has been a long-term resident, as well as a number of dual nationals.

There is still some doubt as to whether the last remaining Swiss "human shield" has heeded foreign ministry advice and left Iraq.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Daniela Stoffel told swissinfo that the departure of the Swiss diplomats didn't mean an end to diplomatic ties with Baghdad.

"You could say this is a temporary closure, or a temporary suspension of our activities in Baghdad, as during the last Gulf war," she said. "Our two liaison officers will try to pursue their work from Amman."

Uneasy calm

On Tuesday, swissinfo spoke to Ulrich Tilgner, a correspondent for Swiss television in Baghdad, who described an uneasy calm among the Iraqi population that disguised a deeper feeling of helplessness.

"The people are completely aware of the danger they are facing and it's very clear that an attack will happen," he said.

"What is coming out of the Pentagon is really frightening [and]... the Iraqis know they have no influence," he added.

"The decisions are taken in Washington and the Iraqi population has to pay the price for that."

Tilgner said many Iraqis had spent the past six months preparing for war, stockpiling food, water and other supplies.

"We visited several homes, and in some cases people have prepared [themselves] to stay inside for ten or 12 weeks," he said.

"But others, and especially the poorer people who do not have such stocks, will face starvation if they cannot go out for a long period of time."

Diplomatic mission

The diplomats are expected to return to the Iraqi capital as soon as conditions allow it.

However, the Swiss authorities are still refusing to concede that war is unavoidable despite pulling out their diplomats.

"We aren't saying war is inevitable," Stoffel told swissinfo. "But we've always said that we would withdraw if people's security wasn't guaranteed, and this seems to be the case now."

The foreign ministry said it would not be pulling out other diplomats working in the region for the time being, unlike other Western nations. Swiss citizens are being left to make up their own minds.

"We have established close contact with the Swiss in the area through our embassies and drawn their attention to the situation," said Stoffel. "It's up to them whether they should leave."

There are more than 10,000 Swiss living In Israel alone.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

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