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UN Has Difficulty in Identifying Remains from Baghdad Attack - 2003-08-24

U.N. officials in Iraq said they are having trouble identifying Iraqi victims of last Tuesday's bomb attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and are appealing to their families for help.

The United Nations has released the remains of two expatriate U.N. workers, including those of the senior official in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. They said they will release the remains of other international staff members as soon as their families have been notified.

But the official in charge of the operation, U.N. field officer Nicolaas Rademeyer, said officials have yet to release the remains of any of the Iraqi victims of last Tuesday's U.N. headquarters bombing.

"We have a big problem in identifying Iraqi nationals. So far, some of the nationals' relatives came forward and gave us some ID's [identification], some descriptions. But not even those descriptions were enough for to identify them positively," he said.

Mr. Rademeyer said 10 families have visually identified victims, but he explained that scientific proof is needed. He called for the families to bring dental records, x-rays or documents with fingerprints in order to aid the process.

Heavy equipment continues to remove debris from the damaged building and under a scorching sun workers are sifting the rubble for human remains.

Mr. Rademeyer said officials were being careful because of ever-changing casualty lists and noted that three people who were presumed dead have since been found alive in local hospitals.

The director of Iraq's Medical Legal Institute, Faik Amin Baker, acknowledged that the delay is painful, especially for Muslim families whose religion requires them to bury their dead as soon as possible.

"We are planning to do so according to Muslim religion in Iraq, and that is what will happen, but we have to assure the people that we are not going to deliver bodies to their families without certain identification, which is very important," Mr. Baker said.

Some U.N. staff members have returned to work, setting up offices in tents and portable buildings in the damaged compound.

Meanwhile, clashes spread between ethnic Kurds and Turkomen in northern Iraq. Local officials in the city of Kirkuk, 300 kilometers north of Baghdad, said two people were killed during a demonstration that turned violent.

The clashes began Friday in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, 100 kilometers south of Kirkuk. At least six people reportedly were killed. The violence erupted after ethnic Turkomen protested the desecration of a local shrine.

In southern Iraq, British military patrols resumed in the city of Basra, one day after three British soldiers were killed in an ambush. Military officials said they were considering ordering their soldiers to resume using helmets and body armor because of the incident.

The developments came as an Iraqi delegation led by the current head of Iraq's Governing Council, Ibrahim Jafari, met in Cairo with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher. The delegation is seeking some form of representation at next month's Arab foreign ministers meeting. The Arab League has not recognized the Governing Council, saiding it is not a legitimate representative of the Iraqi people.