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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: NGOs scale down presence

BAGHDAD, 29 September 2003 (IRIN) - Stacked boxes are piled on chairs, on desks and against the front door - as Save the Children UK, an international NGO, is closing its doors in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad and moving international workers to offices in the north and to Jordan, at least temporarily.

"When you work every day in a war-like environment, you get used to the regular bombings and attacks," Nicolas Hughes, a regional emergency preparedness consultant, told IRIN in Baghdad as he explained the reasoning behind the decision. But a Save the Children security adviser recently came to Baghdad to assess the situation and pointed out to workers just how potentially dangerous it was, he added.

A second bomb that went off at the United Nations headquarters on 22 September, killing two security guards and injuring several more, sealed the decision, according to Hughes. Save the Children will keep offices open in the cities of Arbil and Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, where the security situation is calmer.

“We have not had any direct threats, but the security situation is deteriorating,” he said. “It’s hard to justify our office when we’re threatened. None of our programmes are life-saving.”

Meanwhile, UN staff continue to work out of temporary offices at the Canal Hotel, the UN headquarters partially destroyed in a truck bomb attack on 19 August that killed 23 people including the UN's Special Envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello.

But according to Veronique Taveau, a United Nations spokeswoman, even though the large compound on land to the side and behind the Canal Hotel now feels almost empty, the UN is not leaving.

"We’re downsizing, but it’s a temporary measure after two attacks,” she told IRIN. “The humanitarian situation here is very fragile. The situation is very difficult. If the security situation will improve, people will come back,” she added.

Most international staff are in the Jordanian capital, Amman at the moment and many administrative staff have also been moved to Cyprus. As international workers fly out, others come in, Taveau said.

Workers do not go outside the compound as much as they did before the two bombings, but Taveau insists they are “not in jail.” Getting to Taveau’s temporary office behind the bombed building requires a long walk to a guard gate protected by high earth beams, a check by United Nations security guards, and then an escort for the final distance.

“We have to be careful at the moment,” Taveau said. “We lost a lot of people we really loved - not only international people, but Iraqi people. We have to be careful.”

Most international aid agencies have pulled down signs announcing their presence around town, making it virtually impossible to find their offices. Many others have already left, including Oxfam, an emergency relief group, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It is unusual to see an aid agency car on the streets of Baghdad anymore.

“When others leave, it affects our work a lot,” Ali Talib, a coordinator at Premiere Urgence, a French NGO, told IRIN. “Even our manager has left to Amman.” Premiere Urgence has taken over the job of helping 8,000 internally displaced people in Iraq, since the IOM left, Talib said.

Most of Iraq’s internally displaced people were part of an “Arabization” programme under the former Saddam Hussein regime. When the regime fell in April, many were kicked out of their houses.

CARE International, however, is one humanitarian agency that’s staying. Workers declined to say anything about their decision - insisting that they’re keeping a “low profile”. Even the Iraqi Red Crescent, the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross, has come under attack.

Workers have been directly threatened with letters delivered to their offices saying they would be blown up. In another grim warning, a black banner put up when someone dies in Iraq was made in the name of the head of the office and hung down the street from the office.

“We have hard circumstances now. After the UN bombing, we face a lot of problems, and we can’t travel freely,” Osama Mohammed, aged 31, a coordinator for international aid at the Iraq Red Crescent office, told IRIN. “But we are Iraqi. We have to give a hand to anyone in need.”

Police say they have not arrested anyone in connection with the original United Nations attack, nor have arrests been made in connection with other threats either. US-led administrators in Iraq have said they believe attacks against coalition forces and against other foreigners in Iraq may be the work of Saddam Hussein loyalists.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003

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