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Red Cross to Cut Funds for Iraq - 2003-12-15


The International Committee of the Red Cross says it expects to drastically reduce next year's budget for Iraq because of its forced departure from the country.

The ICRC had planned on spending about $55 million in Iraq next year. That was before its headquarters in Baghdad was bombed in late October, killing two Iraqi aid workers.

As a consequence, Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal says the agency was forced to reduce its staff and cut down on its activities in the country. He says it currently is reviewing the situation with an eye toward revising the budget.

"The final amount of expenditure will really then depend on how we assess the actual prospects for working in Iraq," said Mr. Westphal. "What do we think under current security conditions will we be able to continue doing. How much staff will that require. I think it can safely be assumed that the figure for 2004 will be considerably lower than the total amount of money asked for in 2003."

The Red Cross has closed its offices in Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra. It has withdrawn most of its foreign staff from Iraq. Mr. Westphal says local aid workers will provide humanitarian assistance. But, this, he says, will be limited because their lives too are at risk.

The Red Cross provides a wide range of humanitarian services in the country. A major priority is visits to prisoners of war and civilian detainees. This is likely to suffer most because only expatriate staff is allowed to carry out such visits.

The International Committee of the Red Cross runs humanitarian operations in 80 countries. Mr. Westphal says the lion's share of next year's budget will go toward field operations in Africa. He says the biggest operations are in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Both countries really where we have a certain hope that because of political developments, recent peace treaties or peace accords being signed or negotiations underway, that there may be more possibility to have access to people who have suffered as a result of armed conflict in those two countries," added Mr. Westphal. "They are very much a priority."

Mr. Westphal notes five African countries are among the 10 largest operations in terms of funding. The others include Liberia, Ethiopia and Somalia. He says Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinian territories also are areas of great concern.

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