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UN staff to be temporarily removed from Iraq

Substantial number of UN staff to be temporarily removed from Iraq

The United Nations has decided to temporarily remove a substantial number of international staff from Iraq while security issues are examined on the ground following the terrorist attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad two weeks ago which killed 22 people and injured scores more, a spokesman said today.

The UN's core humanitarian functions would continue with senior international staff remaining as well as a heavy reliance on local Iraqi staff, spokesman Fred Eckhard told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York. Other staff would be moved to neighbouring countries, he said. The decision was made on Friday.

Asked how such a reduction would affect UN humanitarian operations, Mr. Eckhard said the UN was trying to minimize the impact on the operation. He added that some administrative functions could be performed outside of Iraq.

"We're trying to minimize the amount of disruption by allowing the people who can easily do their work outside the country as in Iraq to continue their work - administrators, for example," he said. "And I've already mentioned we're counting on our local staff to carry a lot of the burden as far as the humanitarian work is concerned. So we cannot as efficiently do our work with more than half our international staff out of the country. But we're doing our best."

Mr. Eckhard also said an independent inquiry would investigate security arrangements in the run-up to the attack on the Baghdad headquarters at the Canal Hotel on 19 August, in addition to the immediate security assessment undertaken by the UN Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD).

A spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in Geneva earlier today that security around UN offices in Baghdad had been reinforced, and many OCHA staffers had expressed their willingness to go to Iraq and were presently on a waiting list roster.

OCHA was also not reducing its staff in Baghdad for the moment, spokesperson Elizabeth Byrs said when asked to comment on security in light of the latest attack on a police station in the Iraqi capital this morning.

Some UN staff were withdrawn after the terrorist attack, which killed Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello among others.

Mr. Annan has vowed to continue the UN mission in Iraq despite the terrorist attack, but has also demanded that security be strengthened.

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