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Iraq: Baghdad Residents Condemn Suicide Attacks As Red Cross Mulls Its Future

  • Valentinas Mite

Many Iraqis say they are disgusted by yesterday's series of suicide bombings in the capital, Baghdad. The three attacks killed more than 30 people -- mostly Iraqi civilians and police officers. One of those attacks targeted the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. At least 12 people were killed in that blast, including two Red Cross personnel. The organization is now evaluating its future in Iraq.

Baghdad, 28 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking this morning in front of the ruined Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad, the scene of one of yesterday's deadly suicide bombings, spokeswoman Nada Doumani said no decision has yet been made about the future of the organization in Iraq.

"Well, I cannot speak about [the future] since no decision has been taken, and I don't believe we will leave this country. So, how can I predict any repercussions for the time being? We are very committed to stay here to pursue, as I said, our work. For the time being, there is no question of evacuating the country."

Doumani added that the Swiss-based aid organization has been working in Iraq for 23 straight years and throughout three wars. She says the Red Cross dealt with issues of prisoners-of-war during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. In the 1990s, she says, the organization did all it could to help alleviate the suffering of Iraqi civilians caused in part by UN sanctions instituted after the first Gulf War in 1991.

Now, with the country in a state of occupation, the organization monitors the application of the Geneva Conventions, visiting those detained by the U.S.-led coalition and ensuring there is no violation of their rights. The organization also visits hospitals and provides medical care to Iraqis.

The three-story Red Cross building in Baghdad was empty today, with staffers ordered to remain at home. All the building's windows were broken, with large cracks visible across the building's facade. Reuters reports that U.S. troops and Iraqis were still collecting body parts around the building early today on a cratered street flooded with water from broken mains.

Even the walls of nearby houses are still sprayed with blood. Parts of the vehicle driven by the suicide bomber are still scattered around the site. The scene is one of destruction and human suffering.

Iraqis who spoke with our correspondent on the streets of Baghdad today say they were shocked by yesterday's seemingly coordinated series of bombings -- the bloodiest single day in Iraq since the end of major combat operations was announced on 1 May.

Today, meanwhile, another suicide bomber blew up a car near a police station in the town of Fallujah -- 60 kilometers west of Baghdad -- killing himself and several civilians.

A Baghdad man in his 40s, Ahmad, says the attack against the Red Cross was terrorism, pure and simple.

"It is the peak of terrorism. Is there more terrorism than this? Why do they bomb residential areas and humanitarian organizations? They call it 'resistance.' It is not resistance. Among those who were killed, you cannot find a single American. Thirty-four Iraqis were [killed in yesterday's four bombings], and the figures continue to rise. All of them are civilians."

The U.S. later announced that one American soldier was among 15 people killed yesterday in one of the bombings, at a police station in southern Baghdad.

Ahmad believes those who are conducting attacks against police stations and the headquarters of foreign organizations, such as the UN and the Red Cross, are not Iraqis but foreigners. He believes fighters from neighboring countries are staging the attacks to show the world that Iraq is in a dire state following the U.S.-led invasion.

"They are afraid of changes in their own countries -- Syria or Iran," says Ahmad.

Indeed, a fifth attacker was stopped in Baghdad by Iraqi police yesterday before he could detonate explosives in his car. Officials say the captured man was carrying a Syrian passport.

Ahmad says the situation in Iraq is getting worse and that even schools are receiving threatening letters.

Muhammad Hassam, who is his 50s, says those who are conducting the bombings in the name of resistance to the U.S.-led occupation are only hurting their cause and that most Iraqis are content with the current situation.

"We are an Islamic country, and this kind of resistance is against Islam. On the contrary, these things are far from Islamic. No more, no less. There is no resistance. Ninety percent of Iraqis are happy with the present situation, with the [U.S.-appointed] Governing Council. We need only patience."

Hassam says yesterday's bombings show there is not a single sacred place left in the country -- that any place can be a target.

Hassan is a teenager with a broad, pleasant smile, but his smile disappears when he is asked about yesterday's bombings. He says he is upset because the Red Cross was helping ordinary Iraqis.

"Why shouldn't I be upset?! They were helping us. [They were] giving us medicine and everything. They bombed [the Red Cross] because they hate Iraq, and they are against Iraq."

The Red Cross has already reduced its international staff in Iraq from a peak of about 100 shortly after the overthrow of former President Saddam Hussein to about 30 today. The withdrawal followed the killing of a Red Cross worker in July and a bomb attack in August against the UN headquarters in Baghdad, which killed more than 20 people.

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