Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 1 News List

UN staff leave Iraq in wake of attack

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

A US serviceman on duty with a Marine unit was shot dead south of Baghdad, the US military said yesterday, as the UN prepared to fly out more staff in the wake of this week's truck bombing attack.

A gunman shot the serviceman on Thursday after approaching his vehicle, which had been caught up in traffic in the city of Hilla, 100km south of Baghdad, the military said in a statement. The attacker escaped into a crowded market.

US soldiers have faced daily guerrilla ambushes since the end of the war that ousted former president Saddam Hussein, but such attacks were overshadowed this week by the suspected suicide bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad that killed 24 people.

Up to half the UN's Baghdad-based staff will have left Iraq by the end of the week, a UN official in neighboring Jordan said. Staff wounded in Tuesday's attack or traumatized by it have been authorized to leave.

"We are reducing drastically at the moment... We might have 30 to 50 percent left by the end of this week... probably 50 percent coming out," Christine McNab, the UN resident coordinator in Jordan, told reporters in Amman.

The UN has been keen to stress the bombing will not force it to give up its mission of political and economic reconstruction and humanitarian work in Iraq. But it is clear that it will be severely affected, at least in the short term.

McNab said so far 150 employees had been flown out of Iraq. At least another 50 were to arrive in Jordan yesterday.

UN officials were expected to fly out the body of Sergio Vieira de Mello, its Iraq mission chief who was among those killed by the blast.

The New York Times reported yesterday that investigators were focusing on the possibility that Iraqi security guards at the UN compound had assisted the bombers. A UN spokeswoman in Iraq declined to comment on the report.

A previously unknown Islamist group claimed responsibility for the attack, Dubai-based Al Arabiya reported. The Arabic television channel said the group called itself the "Armed Vanguards of the Second Mohammed Army."

The death of the serviceman in Hilla -- whose name and unit were not released by officials -- brings to 64 the number of US military personnel killed by hostile action since Washington declared major combat over on May 1.

The military said another US soldier was killed and six were wounded in a fire at a small arms range in Baghdad on Thursday. There was no information on the cause of the blaze.

Six US soldiers were wounded yesterday morning when their vehicle ran over a homemade landmine near Baiji, north of Baghdad, the US 4th Infantry Division said. "One of them is still in a critical condition," Major Josslyn Aberle said.

Washington blames Saddam loyalists for much of the violence against American troops and the US is hunting the ousted president and his henchmen.

It announced the capture of Saddam's feared cousin and aide "Chemical Ali" Hassan al-Majid on Thursday.

Also see story:

US struggles to get some help in Iraq

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