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International Organizations Tighten Security, Evacuate Staff

August 21, 2003|Carol J. Williams and Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — Olive-colored U.S. Army cranes, bulldozers and dump trucks removed wreckage from the U.N. headquarters here Wednesday, and international organizations scrambled to protect their staffs from a repeat of the truck bombing that destroyed it.

Rescue workers scoured the wreckage for possible survivors. At least one more body was pulled from the tangled ruins. Atop the devastated compound, the blue-and-white U.N. flag stood at half-staff, limp in the leaden, 110-degree heat.

Officials of the U.S.-led occupation administration kept a low profile, remaining within their fortress-like headquarters at the former presidential palace. Cellular and satellite telephones were answered with recordings stating that the numbers were temporarily unavailable.

Interim U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III told CNN that the attack was probably the work of either those loyal to ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein or "some foreign terrorist group."

Throughout this capital, heightened security was evident in the new police checkpoints at key intersections, fresh coils of concertina wire around foreign offices and more extensive patrols by U.S. forces.

International organizations scrambled to shore up their own defenses or evacuate nonessential personnel.

The World Bank began evacuating most of its 15 staff members in Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, said spokesman Damian Milverton.

"Obviously, the security situation there is of great concern to us. The safety of our staff is the No. 1 priority for us right now," Milverton said.

Three staff members who were injured in Tuesday's blast are at a hospital in Kuwait. One World Bank employee is missing, Milverton said.

The International Monetary Fund withdrew its five economists and one security consultant from Baghdad.

All six were hurt in the blast, but none of the injuries was considered life-threatening. Two staff members with serious injuries were hospitalized in Kuwait. The other four, who suffered minor injuries, were moved to Amman.

U.N. officials, international relief agencies and embassies in Baghdad expressed shock at the bombing and sadness at the loss of friends and colleagues. But most said they were determined to stay the course in Iraq, at least for now.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the organization would not be chased away by terrorism. But a spokesman in Baghdad told reporters that the bombing would have an effect on operations.

"Up to now, we have worked without a heavy military guard, but we will reassess the balance of security and the need to be with the Iraqi people," said Salim Lone.

One reason for the light security at U.N. headquarters was the distaste felt by U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello for the armed convoys and protective cordons that serve to divide foreigners' compounds from the people they ostensibly protect. Vieira de Mello was among those killed in the explosion.

"We're here to work with the people of Iraq, and we don't want to work from behind barbed wire and with tanks," Lone said, responding to questions about the lack of security at the compound. "You have to find a balance."

Yarob Ibrahim, an Iraqi engineer working for UNICEF, said his 300 colleagues in Baghdad were still in shock and were awaiting instructions on new security measures.

"We feel sad and hopeless because this could have such an influence on the future of Iraq. While all the world may try to help us, these kinds of incidents will stop everything," Ibrahim said.

U.N. agencies offer relief programs here ranging from irrigation and food delivery to school rehabilitation and agricultural assistance.

The U.N. compound was a popular meeting ground for international aid agencies because of its Internet connection, cafeteria and meeting rooms, said Alina Labrada, a spokeswoman for Care USA in Atlanta. The relief agency is still considering what, if any, new security measures it will impose, she said, adding that workers were already required to travel in multi-vehicle convoys and wear flak jackets.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, jolted by the July 22 killing of one of its workers en route to Hillah in southern Iraq, had already stepped up security, and staffers are now much more cautious, said spokeswoman Nada Doumani.

"But we do not have armed guards or military escorts," Doumani said. "Our Red Cross emblem should be enough to protect us. We have been here continuously since 1980, and we have no plan to leave. We feel we have important work to do."

Times staff writers Maggie Farley at the United Nations, Patrick J. McDonnell in Baghdad and Susannah Rosenblatt in Washington contributed to this report.

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