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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 05:47 GMT 06:47 UK
Regret at UN's Iraq retreat
Hoshyar Zebari
Zebari said the UN should stay the course
The United Nations' decision to move most of its remaining staff out of Iraq is "playing into the hands of terrorists", according to a senior Iraqi official.

The minister responsible for foreign affairs in the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, Hoshyar Zebari, told the BBC it was important for the UN to stay the course, despite two attacks on its headquarters in Baghdad.

The United States has also expressed disappointment at the UN decision, taken at a time when the Bush administration is trying to encourage broader international support for the reconstruction of Iraq.

But the continuing instability in Iraq was underlined by a mortar attack on a market in Baqouba, north of Baghdad, on Thursday which left eight civilians dead and 18 injured.

Iraqis are also preparing to bury Aqila al-Hashimi, a female member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council who died on Thursday, five days after being shot in an ambush near her home.


Some 600 international staff were stationed in Iraq before the bomb attack on the UN's Baghdad offices last month, which killed 22 people, including the chief UN envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello - but that number has already fallen to a few dozen.

In the absence of international staff, the UN will rely on more than 4,000 Iraqis to continue mainly humanitarian work.

... If the UN is going to spend some time out of the country thinking about whether they can go back, that is time that is lost, that is more dangerous for our soldiers
Paul Bremer

"Today there remain 42 in Baghdad and 44 in the north of the country, and those numbers can be expected to shrink over the next few days," said Fred Eckhard, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"This is not an evacuation, just a further downsizing, and the security situation in the country remains under constant review," he added.

That will soften the blow for Iraqi civilians who have come to rely even more heavily on the UN in the post war period, the BBC's Greg Barrow reports from the UN.

But UN officials acknowledge there is still likely to be a heavy political impact from this move.

The reaction in Washington has been a combination of disappointment and sympathy with the UN's plight, says the BBC's David Bamford.

Deliver humanitarian assistance
Help rebuild institutions to enable Iraqis to govern themselves
Aid safe return of refugees
Promote protection of human rights
Help rebuild justice system
Establish Iraqi media centre
Help Iraq rejoin international community
Other advice to Iraq Interim Authority
Paul Bremer, head of the US-led administration in Iraq, said: "The people of Iraq are going to still need electricity; they are still going to need security; they are still going to need water; they are still going to need sewage in the next two to three months.

"They need it now and if the UN is going to spend some time out of the country thinking about whether they can go back, that is time that is lost, that is more dangerous for our soldiers."

The move also comes as many world leaders are at UN headquarters in New York voicing concerns about the way the US-led coalition is running the country.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the coalition forces would continue to offer what protection they could.

But this is the nub of the problem, our Washington correspondent says.

Second bombing

So far the US-led forces have been unable to guarantee the full protection of aid agencies going about their work in Iraq.

Site of Baghdad UN blast
There are concerns about Iraq's deteriorating security situation
Aid workers, journalists and other foreigners have been attacked or killed, along with Iraqis trying to get the country up and running.

There is no certainty that things will not get much worse before they improve, our correspondent adds.

Most international organisations working in Iraq have been on high alert since the bombing.

On Monday, a vehicle exploded at a police checkpoint near the UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing the bomber and an Iraqi police officer, and injuring at least 12 others.

Our correspondent says the latest decision was widely expected after a UN committee examining security in Iraq recommended to Mr Annan that all international staff should be pulled out.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"Iraq is a place where no one now feels safe"

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