Following a series of recent kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq, including a Japanese aid worker, an international NGO, one of a handful remaining in the country, has decided to pull out temporarily.
The Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) announced that it was suspending mine clearing activity in Baghdad and withdrawing international staff to Amman in Jordan.
"The general situation in Baghdad and an increase in incidents, and of course the kidnappings, have influenced our decision," Per Nergaard, head of NPA's mine action unit told IRIN from the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
Three international staff members had already left Baghdad and the two remaining staff members were due to leave on the next available flight. Local staff were sent home and would not be working, but would continue to be paid. Materials and localities had been secured to enable NPA to resume work as soon as the situation was stable enough.
"It's very sad that it has come to this, but we have no choice now with the present security situation," Nergaard added. NPA has removed 220,000 unexploded (UXOs) items from Baghdad alone since last July.
But while the news of the kidnapping of three Japanese nationals last week near the troubled city of Fallujah, including an aid worker, has shocked the aid community, some Japanese NGOs say they will continue their work.
"We are concerned about security and we have one international staff member inside Iraq, but we are continuing our work for the time being," Kazuyoshi Misawa, a spokesperson for the Japanese NGO Peace Winds, told IRIN from Tokyo on Monday. "Safety and security is needed for us to continue our work and we will keep assessing," he added. Peace Winds is providing medical supplies and equipment to Iraqi hospitals as well as running mobile health clinics.
The captors of the three have called on Tokyo to pull its troops out of Iraq or else they will kill the hostages.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a strong appeal last Thursday for the release of the three Japanese nationals. "The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the threats to [their] lives," his spokesman said in a statement. Annan also called for the release of all other innocent civilians who may have been abducted for political ends in the conflict.
In addition to this, there have been several other kidnappings of foreigners. The most recent was over the weekend with seven Chinese being seized on the road from Jordan to Baghdad. Meanwhile, the fate of a US civilian, taken hostage with a call for US troops to end a fierce military operation on Fallujah, remains unknown.
A British civilian kidnapped in the southern city of Nasiriyah six days ago, was handed over to coalition forces over the weekend. It was also reported that eight foreign lorry drivers taken hostage had been released on Sunday after Muslim clerics called for all kidnapped civilians to be freed. Seven South Korean hostages were also released last week.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions