UNHCR denounces bomb attack on UN's offices in Baghdad

The United Nations' headquarters in the Iraqi capital have been rocked by a massive bomb blast, causing deaths and injuries. The UN refugee agency, though based elsewhere, raced to locate several missing staff members.

Under siege &; the United Nations' headquarters in Baghdad after the blast.   © AFP

BAGHDAD, August 19 (UNHCR) - The United Nations' headquarters in Iraq were rocked by a bomb blast today that shattered windows and caused floors to collapse following the apparent explosion of a car bomb directly in front of its main offices in Baghdad.

Thirteen people were reportedly killed and a number of UN officials injured in the attack, which occurred late afternoon, local time.

More than 300 workers are based in the UN's Canal Hotel building, named for a long-defunct hotel that formerly operated from the premises. The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was reportedly trapped in the wreckage of his offices.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has denounced the bomb attack on the UN's Baghdad headquarters as an act of senseless violence.

"We are shocked and outraged by the attack, which ultimately is aimed at the Iraqi people that the United Nations is trying to help," said High Commissioner Lubbers. "This senseless attack is a setback to the UN's humanitarian efforts to aid Iraqis who have been through decades of suffering."

UNHCR staff in Baghdad raced to locate colleagues who may have been in meetings at the UN's Canal Hotel premises at the time of the bomb attack. The UN refugee agency operates from a separate office building, some 1.5 km from the main UN headquarters.

UNHCR's operations in Iraq include assisting Iraqis returning to their homes from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, as well as aiding displaced persons going back to their home villages. The agency also runs various assistance programmes to help refugee populations in Iraq, who number some 100,000 people, most of them Palestinians.