B,Y SIMON CALDWELL
CAI HOI I(' All) workers are reviewing their commitment to humanitarian relief operations in Iraq in the wake of an increase in terrorist violence.
Cafod, the overseas development agency of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, was assessing the situation in conjunction with Caritas Intemationalis, the umbrella group of Catholic aid agencies from around the world.
Cafod spokeswoman Fiona Callister said the Catholic aid agencies had no immediate plans to either withdraw from Iraq or scale down their relief operations there.
But Miss Callister said: "We are assessing the situation fairly constantly — we are keeping it under review."
Western aid agencies in Iraq are growing increasingly nervous amid the rise of carefully planned and executed attacks by Saddarn Hussein loyalists and international teirorists linked to al-Qaeda.
A massive bomb at the Unita]. Nations headquarters in Baghdad earlier this month sent the message that all westerners, and not just Coalition forces, were no longer safe in the city. The International Committee of the Red Cross was the first aid agency to announce plans to reduce the size of its operation in Baghdad by half after tenor threats followed the murder of one of its workers last month.
The organisation is renowned for staying in dangerous places often after other agencies have left but spokeswoman Nada Dournani said that because of the "level of violence" it had no choice but to send home about 50 of its 100 staff.
"We cannot but take the appmpriate measures," she said. "llowever, we remain committed to staying in Iraq. We are working on ways to continue in a different way."
About six Cafod employees have worked in health centres throughout Iraq at different times since the war ended_ None arc in the country at present but Cafod says it is only because they have been temporarily relieved by staff from other Catholic aid agencies whose turn it is to serve there.
The attack on the UN headquarters, which killed 23 people including United Nations human rights specialist Sergio Vieira de Mello, prompted the Holy See to send a telegram to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to say the Pope was offering "fervent prayers for the victims".
"Imploring all involved in perpetrating acts of violence to abandon the ways ciliated, His Holiness prays that the path of reconciliation will prevail and that the people of Iraq will know a new em of peace, justice and social harmony," said the telegram sent by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State.
Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's representative at the UN, later said the bombing was a vicious and irrational act against an agency which was trying to bring humanitarian aid to Iraq.
Catholics in Iraq have meanwhile been awaiting the election of a Patriarch of Baghdad after Raphael 1 Bidawid, the last leader of the Chaldean Church, died in July at the age of 81 years.
Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Abouna of Baghdad, who will continue to serve in London until a new chaplain to the British Chaldean community is appointed, was among the 20 bishops assembled in the Iraqi capital for a synod called to choose the new patriarch.