Half of the U.N. humanitarian staff in Iraq has left the country over the last two weeks to make a possible evacuation easier in case of war, a U.N. official said Friday.
Out of about 900 foreigners working for U.N. aid programs in the country, about 450 have left after a recommendation from headquarters in New York, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Some of the employees were sent on vacation, others were sent to training courses and yet others were asked to work on projects in neighboring countries, the official said.
"If suddenly we have to evacuate 1,000 people, it's complicated," the official said. "Evacuating 400 people is less complicated."
The reduction in staff applied to workers in all parts of Iraq — not only Baghdad, the official said.
It had no impact on the some 100 U.N. weapons inspectors, who are working independently under a U.N. Security Council mandate to verify that Iraq has rid itself of all weapons of mass destruction.
U.N. aid agencies have kept a significant presence in Iraq since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, helping to mitigate the effects of U.N.-imposed sanctions that began in 1990.