Secretary General Kofi Annan has ordered a withdrawal of much of the United Nations' international staff in Iraq. The pullout will be completed over the next 48 hours.
With explosions and assassinations occurring almost daily, Mr. Annan decided it is time to pull all but a handful of the expatriate U.N. staff out of Iraq.
At the time of the explosion at U.N. headquarters last month, there were more than 650 international staffers in the country. Most of them were withdrawn soon after the blast, and Spokesman Fred Eckhard says more will be leaving by Saturday. But he stressed this is not a complete pullout.
"Today, there remain 42 in Baghdad and 44 in the north of the country, and those numbers can be expected to shrink further over the next few days. This is not an evacuation, just a further downsizing, and the security situation in the country remains under constant review," he said.
Mr. Eckhard said that the 4,200 local U.N. employees in Iraq will continue to carry out their work. They will be supervised by a handful of international staffers, the most senior of whom will be Officer in Charge Kevin Kennedy.
Mr. Eckhard said those being withdrawn would be temporarily redeployed to Amman, Jordan, for possible return to Iraq when security conditions improve.
The decision is seen as a blow to the United States, which has maintained that security in the country is under control. White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said the United Nations role in Iraq remains important.
"We certainly understand their concerns, and understand their reasons for pursuing a reduction, but they have a vital role to play, and we want them to continue to play that vital role," he said.
The United States is continuing to push a draft Security Council resolution on upgrading the U.N. role there. U.N. Spokesman Eckhard said that the redeployment of staff would not affect negotiations on that resolution.
"Members of the Council are debating very difficult issues regarding a possible second resolution on Iraq," he said. "The secretary general, you'll recall, in his statement to assembly, said, subject to security considerations, the United Nations system is prepared to play a full role in Iraq. So, there are two elements there. What will a new resolution, if there is one, say, and what will the security situation in the country be."
The August 19 explosion at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad killed 22 people, including 16 U.N. staffers. Among the dead was Mr. Annan's close friend and top envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
A second bomb attack on the mission last Monday killed an Iraqi policeman and wounded 19 other people, including some U.N. workers.