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Iraq: insecurity forces ICRC to cut back operations

27-08-2003

The prevailing insecurity in parts of Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, has led the ICRC to reduce the number of expatriate staff in the Iraqi capital.

In the light of the prevailing insecurity in parts of Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, the ICRC's work to assist and protect victims of conflict is becoming ever more difficult.

Recent attacks, such as the assassination of an ICRC employee on 22 July and the bombing of the Jordanian embassy and the UN headquarters building, illustrate that the Iraqi capital is currently a very dangerous place. This is especially true for the people of Baghdad who suffer the consequences of daily criminal attacks against individuals and public infrastructure.

The current insecurity also has an impact on the work of humanitarian organisations trying to help the population. As a result of the worsening situation, the ICRC has decided to reduce the number of expatriate staff in the Iraqi capital.

" This is an extremely difficult decision for us to take, " said the ICRC's Delegate-General for the Middle East and North Africa, Balthasar Staehelin. " We deplore the fact that present circumstances oblige us to reduce our activities at a time when many Iraqis need our help. However, we were left with little choice bearing in mind the deterioration of the situation. "

 Visits to POWs  

Over recent days, a number of ICRC expatriate workers have been leaving Baghdad to be redeployed elsewhere in Iraq or outside the country. However, a reduced team of expatriate staff remains present in the capital.

The ICRC will for now focus on its key protection activities, for instance visits to places of detention to monitor the situ ation of prisoners of war and civilian internees. Its staff will also constantly evaluate the security situation.

According to Balthasar Staehelin, " The ICRC remains committed to working in Iraq. We have been present in the country without interruption since 1980, including the period of the most acute hostilities in March and April of this year.

" Since the beginning our actions have shown clearly that we are independent and neutral and not allied with any side in the different conflicts Iraq has experienced. We hope that sooner rather than later the security situation will improve again, enabling us to resume our activities in full. "