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Archive for Thursday, August 28, 2003

Two more U.S. soldiers killed as aid group exodus continues

August 28, 2003

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— Two more U.S. soldiers were killed in combat Wednesday, and the relief agency Oxfam became the fourth major international organization to pull some or all of its foreign staff out of Iraq because of the increasing danger.

A day after the Aug. 19 suicide truck bombing of the U.N. headquarters, which killed at least 23 people, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund said they were temporarily withdraw some foreign staff. Many U.N. foreign workers also have left the country for now.

There are dozens of nongovernment aid and support groups working in Iraq, and a senior official at one group said most of the agencies were studying whether to reduce of foreign staff, or already had.

"Most of them are reducing their staff as much as possible," Hanno Schaefer, spokesman for Caritas, the Catholic Church relief agency.

Oxfam began withdrawing its 15 international staff members Monday and completed the move within 48 hours, Simon Springett, Oxfam's program manager for Iraq, told the Associated Press from Amman, Jordan. The Oxford, England-based aid group had been working on water and sanitation projects with UNICEF in Iraq.

"The risk level was becoming unacceptable for us, making it impossible for our programs to operate," Springett said.

He said the bombing at the U.N. headquarters was only one of many factors that lead Oxfam to withdraw its staff.

"We felt international organizations were becoming increasingly targeted," he said. Fifty Iraqi nationals working for Oxfam were to remain in the country.

"I think there's been a blurring of humanitarian and military operations in Iraq," Springett said. "It's setting a very dangerous precedent."

The Bush administration has been saying for weeks that it expects to request billions in emergency funding for Iraq during the 2004 budget year, but until now it had insisted enough money was available through September to pay for civic projects like repairing utilities and schools.

The possible early infusion of fresh cash is an indication of the urgency felt by Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator of Iraq, to make faster progress in Iraq.

In fact, as recently as Aug. 4 the Pentagon had estimated that $4 billion of the $62.6 billion in emergency funding it received in April would be left over when the budget year ends Sept. 30.

The violence has hit Iraqis as well, with frequent carjackings and robberies. Gunfire and explosions are commonplace in Baghdad.

Two Iraqi policemen and three civilians were killed in a shootout with criminals early Wednesday in central Baghdad's Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves Square, a police official said.

The two U.S. soldiers killed Wednesday died in separate attacks in Baghdad and a city just to the west, the military reported. A third soldier was reported to have died separately of a nonhostile gunshot wound.

One soldier was killed and three were wounded in a roadside bombing in Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad. The military said the attack occurred at 7:10 a.m. The dead soldier was from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the military said.

The second death came in a roadside bomb attack on a military convoy at 7:45 a.m. in Baghdad. The soldier was with the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.

The deaths brought to 281 the number of soldiers killed since the war began March 20. Since President Bush declared major combat over May 1, 143 U.S. soldiers have died -- five more than during the war.

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