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Aid Group Withdraws From Iraq Due to Safety Concerns

Aid Group Withdraws From Iraq Due to Safety Concerns

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- International relief agency Oxfam said Wednesday it had pulled its foreign staff out of Iraq because the group could no longer work safely in the country.

"The risk level was becoming unacceptable for us, making it impossible for our programs to operate," Simon Springett, Oxfam's program manager for Iraq told The Associated Press from Amman, Jordan.

Also Wednesday, two U.S. soldiers were killed in separate attacks in Baghdad and a city just to the west, the military reported. A third was reported to have died of a non-hostile gunshot wound in a separate incident.

In one incident, a soldier was killed and three were wounded in a roadside bombing in Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad. The dead soldier was from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the military said, providing no other details.

The second death came in an attack on a military convoy in Baghdad. The dead soldier from the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, the military said.

The deaths brought to 281 the number of soldiers killed since the war began on March 20. Since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1, 143 U.S. soldiers have died -- five more than during the heavy fighting.

Also on Wednesday, a military court hearing began for four U.S. soldiers accused of abusing prisoners of war at a camp in southern Iraq. The hearing on whether to press charges against the men took place at Camp Bucca near the port city of Umm Qasr with.

The four Army reservists from the 320th Military Police Battalion are accused of punching and kicking several Iraqis, breaking one man's nose, while escorting prisoners to a POW processing center near Umm Qasr in May. The soldiers claim they acted in self-defense.

Military officials have declined to name the reservists, but family members identified them as Staff Sgt. Scott McKenzie, 37, Sgt. Shawna Edmondson, 24, Spc. Tim Canjar, 21, and Master Sgt. Lisa Girman, 35.

Meanwhile, in northern Iraq U.S. troops continued raids against paramilitary forces, Saddam Hussein loyalists, Fedayeen Saddam militia and other subversive elements as part of "Operation Ivy Needle," military officials said.

The operation, which was announced a day earlier, had been going on for two weeks, and included 55 raids that led to the capture of 390 Iraqis, 57 of whom were targeted as Saddam loyalists, Baath party members, and Saddam Fedayeen militia, according to 4th Infantry Division spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle.

Oxfam began withdrawing its 15 international staff members Monday and completed the move within 48 hours, Springett said. The London-based aid group had been working on water and sanitation projects with UNICEF in Iraq.

Last week's bombing of the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters, which killed 23 and injured more than 100, was only one of the factors contributing to Oxfam's decision, Springett said.

"We felt international organizations were becoming increasingly targeted," he said.

"I think there's been a blurring of humanitarian and military operations in Iraq," Springett said. "It's setting a very dangerous precedent."

He said he had spoken to several other aid groups that were reviewing their security in Iraq.

As the U.S. death toll climbed, Bush said the United States would not back down in Iraq.

"We're on the offensive against terror, and we will stay on the offensive against terror," Bush told veterans in St. Louis Tuesday.

"We've adopted a new strategy for a new kind of war: We will not wait for known enemies to strike us again," he said. "We will strike them."

An Iraqi was killed Wednesday and two U.S. soldiers were wounded after a roadside bomb was detonated outside Baqouba, 42 miles north of Baghdad, the 4th Infantry's Maj. Paul Owen said.

U.S. troops killed one Iraqi on Wednesday near Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad, after three men shot at their patrol. The patrol returned fire and there were no U.S. casualties, Aberle said.

A U.S. Army logistics convoy reported encountering a man with a child who appeared to have a bomb strapped to its body near Tuz Kharmato, 110 miles north of Baghdad, Aberle said. The convoy made a detour to avoid the child, Aberle said.

In Baghdad, the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi Civil Defense officials marked the opening of a firehouse in the Al Bayaa neighborhood, after renovation by the Americans. It is one of 11 Iraqi firehouses damaged in postwar looting that the coalition is repairing.

U.S. Army Maj. Brent Jerald said the reopening was a sign of the good works being carried out by coalition forces that are overshadowed by the problems facing Iraqis and their American occupiers, and he urged patience.

"It is going to take time. We ask the Iraqis to be patient.

Everyone needs to be patient and the changes will come, just like today," Jerald said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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