17 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 1 (2004)
Humanitarian Action under Attack: Reflections on the Iraq War

handle is hein.journals/hhrj17 and id is 5 raw text is: Humanitarian Action Under Attack:
Reflections on the Iraq War
Nicolas de Torrente*
On October 27, 2003, suicide bombers slammed an ambulance packed
with explosives into the compound of the International Committee of the
Red Cross (ICRC) in Baghdad, killing eighteen civilian bystanders and
wounding dozens more.' Coming just two months after the bombing of the
U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that claimed the lives of twenty-three peo-
ple, including Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sergio Vieira
de Mello, the attack on the ICRC sent shockwaves through the aid commu-
nity.2 There was no mistaking the intentions of the bombers; the attack was
a deliberate and targeted assault on civilians and aid workers, a blatant war
crime.3
Most startling was the choice of the ICRC as the target of attack. Not only is
the ICRC the preeminent humanitarian organization with a specific mandate
based in international humanitarian law (IHL), but it, unlike most aid agen-
cies, also has a long history of providing assistance in Iraq. The ICRC pro-
vided aid and cared for prisoners of war during the Iran-Iraq war and re-
mained in Iraq throughout both the tumult of the 1990s and the U.S. war
with Iraq in 2003.4 After the bombing, aid organizations had to wonder if
the ICRC, with its strong record of principled humanitarian action, was not
immune to attack, what organization was?
For many aid organizations, the attack on the ICRC jeopardized the pos-
sibility of keeping international staff in Iraq, particularly in the central part
of the country where hostilities between the U.S. occupation force and in-
surgents were the most intense. Many organizations withdrew entirely from
* Executive Director, Midecins Sans Frontiires/Doctors Without Borders (MSF-USA). MSF is a private
independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid in nearly eighty countries to
victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters. Thanks in particular to Pierre
Salignon, Kevin Phelan, Kris Torgeson, J. C. Sylvan, and Mike Beneditkson for their valuable contribu-
tions.
1. Baghdad Terror Blast Kills Dozens, BBC, Oct. 27, 2003, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/
middle-east/3216539.stm.
2. See id.
3, Grave breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) (codified in the Geneva Conventions and
their Additional Protocols), such as the willful killing of non-combatants, are war crimes. See FRANCOISE
BOuCHET-SAULNIER, THE PRACTICAL GUIDE TO HUMANITARIAN LAW, 414-29 (Laura Bray ed., 2002);
IV Geneva Convention, Aug. 12, 1949, Oct. 21, 1950, 6 U.S.T. 3516, 75 U.N.T.S. 287.
4. International Committee of the Red Cross, The ICRC in Iraq, at http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/
siteeng0.nsf/iwpList74/F8EB853A6796F202C1256B6600601EDD (last visited Feb. 11, 2004).

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