Safety Concerns Prompt U.N. to Reduce Iraq Staff

The United Nations (search) will drastically reduce its remaining international staff in Iraq because of security concerns following the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and continuing violence, U.N. officials said Friday.

There are currently about 400 international staff members in the country, including about 110 in Baghdad. U.N. officials want to cut the number by nearly 90 percent to a ceiling of 40 to 50 essential international staffers, the U.N. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) ordered a reassessment of security after the Aug. 19 bombing that killed 22 people, including the U.N.'s top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello (search), and injured 164 others.

At the time of the bombing, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said there were about 300 international staff in Baghdad and another 300 elsewhere in Iraq. The United Nations evacuated injured staff, and ordered others to move their operations to Amman, Jordan.

Since the U.N. bombing, attacks have continued on U.S. forces and on Friday a massive car bomb exploded outside Iraq's holiest Shiite shrine in the southern city of Najaf, killing scores.

The U.N. Staff Union's committee on security has called on Annan to suspend all U.N. operations in Iraq and withdraw staff "until such time as measures are taken to improve security."

The biggest impact of the cutback in international staff is likely to be on the phasing out of the U.N. oil-for-food program.

It allowed the former Iraqi regime to sell unlimited quantities of oil, provided most of the money went to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.