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Annan Orders All UN Personnel to Evacuate Iraq - 2003-03-18

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has ordered all U.N. humanitarian workers and weapons inspectors to leave Iraq and suspended the oil-for-food program there.

Mr. Annan said after receiving information from U.S. authorities, he made the decision to evacuate U.N. workers and weapons inspectors from Iraq. The secretary-general said that all U.N. programs, including inspections for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have, therefore, been suspended. "I have just informed the Council that we will withdraw the UNMOVIC [U.N. Monitoring and Verification Commission] and [International] Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] inspectors," he said. "We will withdraw the humanitarian workers. We will withdraw the UNIKOM [U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission] troops on the Iraq-Kuwaiti border. [They] will also not be able to operate."

Mr. Annan says that without U.N. workers, programs such as "Oil for Food" can not be administered. Under the provisions of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, United Nations personnel supervise Iraq's oil exports to pay for imports of food and other basic goods.

Last month, U.N. officials said that nearly 80 percent of Iraqis are dependent on existing food-distribution programs.

U.N. aid groups have been making contingency plans, and Mr. Annan said that the United Nations will find a way to help the Iraqi population should war break out.

"This does not mean that if war comes to Iraq, the United Nations will sit back and not do anything to help the Iraqi population. We will find a way of resuming our humanitarian activities to help the Iraqi people who have suffered for so long and do whatever we can to give them assistance and support," he said.

Many countries have already urged their citizens to leave the area and the United States has also ordered non-essential diplomatic staff and government dependents to leave Syria, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

Despite the evacuation of U.N. inspectors as war looms, Germany's Ambassador to the United Nations says that he expects chief inspector Hans Blix to provide a clear program of work to the Security Council later this week.