GENEVA – A Canadian worker for the International Committee of the Red Cross was killed when gunfire strafed his car while driving through Baghdad, the agency announced Wednesday. Another 12 people were reportedly killed in the attack.
Vatche Arslanian, 48, who was in charge of logistics for the Red Cross in Iraq, was mortally wounded Tuesday despite a clearly marked Red Cross vehicle, the ICRC said in a statement. Two other Red Cross workers traveling with Arslanian were able to escape and reach the agency's office with word of the attack.
"A total of 13 people are reported to have been killed in the same incident, which involved five other cars," the ICRC said in a statement. Staff recovered Arslanian's body and took it to an Iraqi hospital. The ICRC, which planned a day of mourning Thursday for the slain staffer, said it appeared the vehicles were caught in crossfire during fighting in the Iraqi capital.
The ICRC is virtually the only aid agency working in Iraq at the moment. Arslanian was one of six international employees in Baghdad working with the local staff.
"The courageous decision by six ICRC expatriates to stay in Baghdad voluntarily and work alongside their local colleagues during the worst of the fighting made a marked difference to the lives of thousands of people," said Balthasar Staehelin, the ICRC's delegate-general for the Middle East and North Africa.
"Mr. Arslanian was one of those six and we can find some solace in knowing that he helped to make that difference."
As U.S. Marines in tanks rolled into Baghdad, setting off both a celebration and pockets of heavy fighting, ICRC staff were unable to move about freely Wednesday. "Given the chaotic and totally unpredictable situation in the city, getting from one place to another involves incalculable risks," spokesman Florian Westphal said.
The agency said it was assessing the situation in Baghdad "with a view to decide the future course of action." Staff in the Iraqi cities of Irbil and Basra are continuing their work, it added.