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Since 1st March, 1999
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Shocked Red Cross ponders withdrawal

Geneva, Oct. 27 (Reuters): The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed outrage at today’s unprecedented suicide bombing of its Baghdad headquarters, which killed at least 10 people, and said it was weighing a withdrawal from Iraq.

It was the first time the Swiss-based relief agency, which for 140 years has sought to protect the victims of war, had been targeted by suicide bombers, although a number of officials have died in shootings and other attacks in places such as Chechnya and Afghanistan in recent years.

“We are deeply shocked...because it is an attack against the ICRC...and that means, of course, a deliberate attack against our protective emblem and against our work,” chief spokeswoman Antonella Notari told Reuters Television.

The organisation issued a statement condemning the bombing, in which two of its Iraqi guards were amongst the dead, and stressed that all deliberate attacks on civilians were violations of “international humanitarian law and negate the basic principles of humanity.”

Most of the victims were passers-by.

Eye witnesses said an ambulance packed with explosives and bearing the ICRC’s distinctive red cross emblem was used in today’s attack, which blew out the front of the building.

It was one of four rush hour bombings around Baghdad, including two strikes against police stations.

In all, at least 33 people died and many more were injured in the capital’s bloodiest day for two months.

Notari said that it was too early to say whether the ICRC would have to pull out of Iraq, where it has been present since 1980. In that time, the country fought an eight-year war with Iran and was attacked twice by US-led military coalitions.

“We will have to analyse exactly what this means,” Notari said. “We know there is a need for the ICRC...(But) this makes things extremely difficult. Today, it is impossible for us to give a precise decision on that,” she said.

The agency had already cut the number of international staffers in Iraq to 30, from a peak of some 100 in the aftermath of the overthrow of former President Saddam Hussein.

It also has several hundred local staff.

The retreat gathered pace after an ICRC technician from Sri Lanka was shot dead in July in what the organisation said was also a deliberate attack because the vehicle he was travelling in was clearly marked.

In August, the UN’s Baghdad headquarters was also hit by a car bomb, which killed 22 people including the world body’s top representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

After that incident, the UN pulled out most of its staff, and most remaining non-government aid bodies followed suit.

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