Aid Agencies Consider Cutting, Suspending Operations in Iraq
Byline: Betsy Pisik, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
NEW YORK - Private relief agencies were considering whether to suspend or curtail operations in Iraq after a suicide attack at the Red Cross headquarters yesterday, creating new headaches for coalition officials seeking to speed the country's reconstruction.
"We are deeply shocked ... because it is an attack against the [International Committee of the Red Cross] and that means, of course, a deliberate attack against our protective emblem and against our work," chief spokeswoman Antonella Notari said yesterday in Geneva.
"We will have to analyze exactly what this means," Miss Notari said. "We know there is a need for the ICRC. ... [But] this makes things extremely difficult."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell urged private organizations, contractors and the United Nations to stay in Iraq despite the dangers, arguing that the attacks seem designed to make life harder for ordinary Iraqis.
The relief organizations are needed, he said. "And if they are driven out, then the terrorists win," Mr. Powell said in Washington.
In yesterday's attack, an explosives-laden ambulance painted with the emblem of the Red Crescent Society - a Red Cross affiliate - slammed into barriers near the ICRC headquarters, killing 12 persons and wounding dozens more, most of them Iraqi pedestrians.
There are at least four dozen relief agencies operating in Iraq, and many of them said yesterday that they were reassessing whether the country has become too dangerous to continue deploying foreign staffers.
Many more - ranging from the United Nations to small, project-specific groups - have evacuated foreign staff or withdrawn completely in the weeks after the deadly August attack on the U.N. headquarters.
Most of these groups work at repairing vital infrastructure such as water, sewage and electrical plants, or rebuilding schools, hospitals and houses. Among the groups still represented are CARE, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and a variety of religious organizations.
Few of these groups yesterday were interested in discussing their work, citing the instability in Iraq and fear of threats against their foreign staff.
"We are waiting to hear from our Iraq office before we comment. I don't know what they are comfortable with me saying, for safety reasons," said the press officer of one private relief organization. "We don't want to call attention to them."
But several groups conceded privately that yesterday's attack, and the precarious security situation, would hasten an exodus of foreign aid workers. …