Governments begin withdrawing citizens from conflict zone

17 March 2003
As the 16 March Azores summit of the US, the UK and Spain made clear that decisions on the Iraq crisis were to be made within days, the process of withdrawing personnel from the conflict zone began. A signal that inspections had run their course came hours after the summit, when President Bush advised head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and leader of nuclear inspections in Iraq, Mohammed el-Baradei, to remove his inspectors, Reuters reported. Speaking to the IAEA board of governors, El-Baradei said that the same advice had been issued to the New York headquarters of the UN Monitoring, Verification & Inspections Commission (Unmovic), responsible for chemical and biological weapons inspectors.

The following day, the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (Unikom) announced that it was suspending its operations patrolling the demilitarised zone along the Iraq-Kuwait border. Many non-essential staff had already been withdrawn from the mission. Meanwhile the UK advised all British citizens to leave Kuwait and the US told all non-essential personnel to evacuate Israel, Syria and Kuwait. 'If you are already in Kuwait you should leave urgently while commercial flights remain available,' the UK embassy said in a statement. 'The threat to British individuals and organisations from terrorism is now high [and] will rise further in the event of hostilities with Iraq.' Russia took the same step: 'In connection with a worsening of the situation surrounding Iraq, the Russian Foreign Ministry recommends that Russian citizens leave Iraq and avoid making trips to the region,' the ministry said on 17 March.

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