GENEVA – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) telephoned the head of the international Red Cross Tuesday to urge the agency to stay in Iraq despite a deadly homicide bombing on its Baghdad headquarters.
However, the agency insisted it would decide independently whether it is too dangerous to remain, regardless of any pressure from the United States.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell telephoned Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (search), to stress that the United States "would encourage people to stay there and do the important work that they have been doing."
ICRC officials were not immediately available for comment Tuesday evening in Geneva after Boucher disclosed the call.
But the ICRC said earlier that it was reconsidering its deployment in Iraq following the wave of homicide bombings in Baghdad on Monday. One of the attacks hit the Baghdad headquarters of the neutral, Swiss-run ICRC, killing two Iraqi Red Cross employees and as many as 10 other people outside the compound.
"We have to evaluate what it means and what consequences it has for us," said ICRC spokeswoman Antonella Notari. "It's a terrible shock for us, and also completely incomprehensible."
She said the agency would make its decision "independently of any of the actors in Iraq" and stressed that the agency has never asked U.S. forces for protection.
Powell told reporters in Washington on Monday that the Red Cross and others trying to help the Iraqis rebuild should stay. "They are needed. Their work is needed. And if they are driven out, then the terrorists win."
The ICRC, one of the few agencies that stayed in Iraq throughout the U.S. attack on the country, has about 30 foreign staff and around 600 Iraqi employees in the country. Security concerns already have forced the organization to cut back from a maximum of 130 foreign staff earlier in the year.
Hans von Sponeck, the former German head of the United Nations' oil-for-food program for Iraq, also urged aid agencies to stay.
"It would be terrible if international organizations pulled out now," von Sponeck told Germany's Suedwestrundfunk radio. "I don't think the Red Cross will do that -- it didn't do it in Afghanistan, it won't in Iraq.
"We need protection from the military power, but we need even more political discussions with all parties in Iraq," said von Sponeck, who quit in 2000 because of the impact of U.N. sanctions on ordinary Iraqis.
Other aid groups are evaluating their operations in Iraq after Monday's attacks, which also hit three police stations and came more than two months after the Aug. 19 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) also spoke with Kellenberger after the bombing and called the attack "a crime against humanity."
Red Cross delegates devote much of their time to visiting prisoners held by occupation forces and the Iraqi police -- a main part of the agency's mandate under the Geneva Conventions on warfare and occupation.
The organization also offers emergency medical aid, provides water and sanitation and educates Iraqis on how to avoid land mines and other explosives.