U.N. Staff in Iraq Down to Less Than 50

More than 30 foreign employees of the United Nations left Iraq over the weekend after Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) sent them home because of security concerns, leaving just 50 non-Iraqi workers behind, a U.N. spokesman said Monday.

The number of foreign workers will continue to fluctuate, spokesman Fred Eckhard said at a news briefing.

The United Nations (search) had 300 foreign employees in Baghdad and another 300 elsewhere in Iraq before an Aug. 19 car bomb killed 22 people at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad (search). Annan later ordered the number reduced to 42 in Baghdad and 44 in the north.

Annan ordered further cutbacks last week following a second bombing, but did not say how many of the remaining staffers would leave.

Eckhard has said the United Nation's humanitarian work should continue, with limited international supervision, using its 4,233 Iraqi employees.

But Annan has indicated that if security does not improve, he might not allow the world body's international staff to return in sufficient numbers to do more, adding that the United Nations would be prevented from helping Iraq write and adopt a new constitution and hold elections.

The U.N. Staff Union, representing 5,000 staff members worldwide, has called for the suspension of U.N. operations and the withdrawal of all U.N. staff in Iraq because of the "unacceptable risks."

Officials running the U.N. oil-for-food program say the staff cutbacks have made it difficult for them to get ready for the phasing out of the program by Nov. 21.

Benon Sevan, who runs the program that gave Iraqis a lifeline when the country was under U.N. sanctions before Saddam Hussein was ousted, said the United Nations would meet the deadline and hand over any remaining activities to the U.S.-led coalition.

Iraq exported 3.4 billion barrels of oil under the program, generating some $65 billion in revenue, according to the United Nations. Nearly $27 billion in humanitarian supplies were delivered to Iraq under the program.

Sevan said nearly $440 million worth of goods are still expected to be delivered under approved contracts, and a new set of arrangements has to be put in place for inspecting and authenticating goods.