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Red Cross halts Baghdad operations

A young casualty is stretchered to hospital in Baghdad.
A young casualty is stretchered to hospital in Baghdad.

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GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was temporarily halting its work in Baghdad because of the "chaos" in the Iraqi capital. It also announced that a Canadian Red Cross staffer had been killed in crossfire.

"ICRC delegates and local staff have been unable to move about in Baghdad since this morning. Given the chaotic and totally unpredictable situation in the city, getting from one place to another involves incalculable risks," an ICRC statement said Wednesday.

The ICRC earlier said it was suspending visits to hospitals in the city because of the dangers.

Nada Doumani identified the victim as Vatche Arslanian, 48. She confirmed that he died when the car he was in was caught in crossfire Tuesday. She said two other officials with Arslanian escaped but as many as 12 people were believed to be dead in the incident.

She said the group "will assess the situation" to determine when it will resume its work in the city.

Civilian casualties increased sharply after the arrival of coalition forces in Baghdad, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. At Al-KIndi hospital, AP said, doctors reported receiving more than 30 bodies and 250 wounded.

Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, an ICRC official based in Baghdad, said ground fire casualties could not be evacuated from the battlefield to hospitals in Baghdad because coalition and Iraqi forces were not letting ambulances through to care for them.

Red Cross convoys that were "clearly identified" were being caught in battle crossfire, he said.

"We are very concerned that a convoy of two clearly identified ICRC cars with large flags on them were caught in such a situation," said Huguenin-Benjamin.

Many civilian cars also came under fire on the "big bridge leading out of Baghdad," he said.

Huguenin-Benjamin said such interference was a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

"The problem is not the lack of medicine in the hospitals, the problem is respect for ambulances and respect for casualties and to give a chance for the minimum of security for people to be evacuated," Huguenin-Benjamin said.

Arslanian had been working for the ICRC for more than three years, the group said, mostly on loan from the Canadian Red Cross. He had worked with the ICRC team in Iraq since July 17, 2001, and has played a role in delivering supplies, in particular to hospitals and water-treatment plants.

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