Czech officials call for heightened security after Baghdad blast

20-08-2003

At least 20 people are known to have been killed in Tuesday's truck bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, and many more bodies are still buried in the rubble. Tuesday's suspected suicide bombing was the most devastating attack on a UN civilian complex in the organisation's 58-year history, and has left many UN personnel in Iraq - including a team of Czech officials - contemplating their future in the country. Rob Cameron reports.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK This attack left many members of the international mission to rebuild Iraq deep in shock. Many lost friends and colleagues; all were profoundly affected by the bombing. Martin Dvorak, formerly the mayor of Hradec Kralove, is the deputy director of donor co-ordination at the Council for International Co-ordination. Speaking by mobile phone from his office in Baghdad, he told me where he was when the bomb struck.

"I was sitting in my office in Saddam's former palace, working on my computer, when I heard the detonation. Within five or ten minutes all the phones started ringing, people asking if we knew something about the bomb attack against the UN force. Finally we managed to collect some information, we watched the reports on CNN, and also we tried to call around to get some information about our friends, about people we know who might have been at UN headquarters, and the news we've been getting has been worse and worse of course."

United Nations headquarters in Baghdad after the Wednesday's attack, photo: CTKUnited Nations headquarters in Baghdad after the Wednesday's attack, photo: CTK The woman in charge of the Czech mission in Iraq, Janina Hrebickova, is now on her way back to Prague for urgent consultations with the government. Mrs Hrebickova said the security situation in Baghdad had now changed so dramatically there had to be a total rethink of security for members of the reconstruction effort.

At present there are 79 Czech military policemen in Iraq, most of whom are deployed to protect the Czech Army field hospital in Basra. There are some 15 officers providing protection to Czech diplomats in Baghdad.

Janina Hrebickova will ask her government for more soldiers and more armoured vehicles to accompany members of the Czech mission to Iraq. Only this, she says, can restore the fragile sense of security that was shattered in Tuesday's bomb blast.

20-08-2003