Another Grim Milestone In Iraq

Two major aid agencies on Wednesday announced plans to reduce staff in the wake of recent violence, as the U.S. death toll passed a grim milestone.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it would cut back on its international staff in Iraq, but remain in the country for the sake of the Iraqi people.

The ICRC said it reconsidered its deployment in Iraq following a wave of suicide bombings in Baghdad on Monday. One of the attacks badly damaged the agency's Baghdad headquarters, killing two Iraqi Red Cross employees and as many as 10 other people outside the compound.

The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres on Wednesday also pulled out part of its international staff from Iraq for security reasons.

Two American soldiers were killed when their Abrams battle tank was damaged by resistance fighters, and seven Ukrainian troops were wounded in a separate engagement.

The latest attacks — 233 over the last seven days according to the U.S. military — drove the U.S. combat death toll during the occupation over the number killed before President Bush declared an end to active combat on May 1.

Wednesday's deaths brought to 117 the number of American soldiers killed by hostile fire since May 1. A total of 114 U.S. soldiers were killed between the start of the war March 20 and the end of April.

In other developments:

  • Baghdad police commander Maj. Gen. Hassan al-Obeid on Wednesday announced new measures to bolster security in the capital, including additional 24-hour checkpoints and special patrols around sensitive locations, according to coalition-run Iraqi television.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it is revising the contracts that will replace Halliburton's lucrative, no-bid deal to restore Iraq's oil industry. That will delay any move to replace the former firm of Vice President Dick Cheney.
  • The recent attacks in Iraq may discourage foreign countries from sending troops. Bangladesh and Portugal have decided not to, reports USA Today, while South Korea is holding off on any decision. Turkey is waiting to see if Iraqis accept their offer of help.
  • The Project on Defense Alternatives, a research group, estimates total Iraqi civilian deaths from the start of the war until May 1 at 3,230 to 4,327, and military fatalities at about 9,200.
  • A U.S. commander tells The Washington Post he's seen no evidence of any foreign fighters heading into Iraq from Syria. Mr. Bush on Tuesday blamed recent attacks on Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists and said the U.S. was "working closely" with Syria and Iran to prevent infiltration.
  • Carl W. Ford Jr., former assistant secretary of State for intelligence and research, tells the Los Angeles Times that U.S. spy agencies "badly underperformed" in assessing Iraq's weapons capabilities. The New York Times reports U.S. commanders are weighing whether to shift resources from hunting weapons to hunting terrorists.

    The U.S. tank was disabled when it was struck by a land mine or a roadside bomb Tuesday night during a patrol near Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division. A third crewman was evacuated to a U.S. hospital in Germany, she said.

    A spokesman for the multinational division at Camp Babylon said the attack on the Ukrainians occurred when two of their armored personnel carriers rolled over land mines near Suwayrah about 40 miles southeast of Baghdad. After the vehicles were disabled, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the disembarked soldiers, the spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

    In Baghdad, half a dozen mortar rounds exploded late Tuesday in an upscale Jadriya neighborhood across the Tigris River from the U.S.-led coalition headquarters but caused no damage or casualties, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

    In Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, insurgents fired late Tuesday on the south gate at the main U.S. military base there. At least one American soldier from the 4th Infantry Division was wounded, witnesses said.

    A U.S. military convoy was attacked Tuesday night by small arms fire in the northern city of Mosul, the military said. There were no casualties.

    Rockets were fired Tuesday night at a U.S. military compound in the oil center of Kirkuk, according to Saleh Sabah, a member of the Iraqi National Accord, which has offices near the compound.

    In Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, witnesses said an explosive device intended for U.S. troops detonated Wednesday as a civilian car was passing by, seriously injuring the driver.

    The Red Cross made its announcement a day after Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned the organization's president to urge the agency to stay in Iraq.

    "The ICRC remains committed to helping the people of Iraq," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for ICRC.

    Kraehenbuehl said the ICRC had yet to determine how many of the foreign staff would leave Iraq, but that it would reduce their numbers — currently about 30 — and increase the security of those who remain. The agency also has 600 Iraqi employees working for it, and they will remain in Iraq.

    The Red Cross, one of the few agencies that stayed in Iraq throughout the U.S. attack on the country last spring, said it was shocked by the recent bombing because it maintains strict neutrality.

    CBS News Reporter Charles D'Agata says the recent spike in violence is keeping kids away from schools. Classrooms have been nearly empty since the suicide attacks in Baghdad on Monday.

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