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Red Cross closing Baghdad, Basra offices

Alexander Higgins

Nov. 8, 2003 GENEVA (AP) -- The International Red Cross, already planning to reduce staff in Iraq following an attack on its Baghdad headquarters, said Saturday it is temporarily closing its offices in the capital and the southern city of Basra because of security concerns.

The agency will maintain a presence in northern Iraq, said Florian Westphal, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"We decided that in view of an extremely dangerous and volatile situation that we would have to temporarily close our offices in Baghdad and Basra," he said. Basra is Iraq's second largest city.

Westphal confirmed the decisions disclosed by ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger in an interview Saturday in the Swiss daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger of Zurich.

"This decision has to be seen in the context that we clearly decided against seeking any military protection for buildings or staff," Westphal said.

Kellenberger said in the interview, "We must painfully acknowledge that the ICRC as a large humanitarian organization has become a target of attacks for a group of people."

This has forced the agency to reconsider how to carry out its humanitarian work while protecting its employees, Kellenberger said.

"In the coming weeks we will have to redefine our modus operandi, the way we are deployed," he said.

Besides the offices in Iraq's two largest cities the agency also has a large office in Irbil, in the Kurdish-dominated north of Iraq.

Westphal declined "for security reasons" to go into details about how much the decision would affect the work of some 30 foreign staffers and 600 Iraqis who work for the Swiss-run, neutral ICRC.

He said the ICRC continued to plan to reduce the number of foreign staff because of the suicide bombing of the agency's Baghdad headquarters, ``but we will maintain a presence of expatriates.''

"The situation is so tense on the ground that we don't want to get into details," Westphal said.

He said the ICRC had received no direct threat but made its decision on the basis of "an overall assessment of the situation."

The ICRC has been deciding which jobs held by the international employees are essential and who will remain to fill them, Westphal said.

The Swiss-run organization had to find temporary headquarters in Baghdad after its offices in the Iraqi capital heavily damaged by a suicide bomber last month.

ICRC workers already were keeping a low profile.

Two Iraqi employees of the ICRC were killed in the attack, along with 10 other people outside the compound.


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