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March 1, 2007

World Bank Mum Over Report of Staff Injury

by Emad Mekay

An Iraqi World Bank staffer has been wounded in Baghdad, according to an inside source in the Bank and an email message from a source on the ground in Iraq, the first casualty for an international organization since a bombing that targeted the Baghdad U.N. headquarters in 2003.

The Bank, whose President Paul Wolfowitz is negotiating a contract with a foreign national to work as the Bank's director in Iraq, has kept the incident under wraps apparently for fear that the news could derail the appointment plans.

The Washington-based Bank has so far made no announcement about it and several sources inside the Bank said staff injuries "in the line of duty" should have been announced a least internally.

Several phone inquires by IPS to the Bank were not returned.

However, a Bank official familiar with the incident who wanted to remain unidentified confirmed to IPS that an Iraqi staffer was injured in Baghdad six days ago while waiting in his car at a checkpoint.

Further, an internal email seen by IPS said the staffer was shot in the shoulder and had to be taken out of Iraq for treatment in Amman, Jordan because of the lack of medical services in Baghdad.

The staff member was on his way to work early in the morning when he was shot at, the email said.

"All that the staff could remember was that he was waiting in line in his car to cross a checkpoint when he heard the front of the windshield break, and he felt blood pouring out of his shoulder," says the email sent by a Bank staffer in Iraq to the headquarters in Washington.

The World Bank's Middle East department staff members, including Joseph Saba, country director of the Middle East Department, were feverishly working last week to get the injured staffer out of Iraq and arrange for his treatment, the source told IPS.

The Bank staffer who wrote the email from Iraq described the situation after the injury in Baghdad as such: "He was very lucky for two reasons. The bullet entered in the upper right shoulder a couple of inches from his neck. Second, somebody recognized him on the scene when he was not fully conscious and took him to a hospital and informed his family. Otherwise he would have bled to death."

"The staff (member) was in a hospital where injured and dead bodies were left on the floor in the hallways. The hospital had no medical supplies, no electricity and no blood. Only a couple of doctors available to treat hundreds of cases. Families who could pay in cash could get some basic medical treatments for their injured relatives."

The World Bank runs its operation through the Bank's Interim Office for Iraq, which is based in Amman, Jordan. The office employs Iraqis for operations inside the country.

The Bank's operational work in Iraq has relied until now on regular meetings with Iraqis outside of Iraq and use of the Bank's videoconferencing facilities in Baghdad.

The Bank has not had a major presence inside Iraq since a bombing on Aug. 19, 2003 claimed the life of another Bank staffer, Alya Sousa, and those of 21 U.N. employees at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

The email message sent to the World Bank headquarters here in Washington reporting on the condition of the unidentified injured Iraq staffer describes a shaky security situation where relatives of the bleeding man couldn't leave him in the hospital for fear that militias would come in and shoot him on the spot if his religious sect was to be known.

There have been numerous reports that the Shiite militias of the Iraqi warlord Moqtada al-Sadr comb hospitals and clinics for injured Sunni men and execute them.

The news comes at a sensitive time for World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who as the U.S. deputy secretary of defense was instrumental in pushing the United States towards the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

This incident is likely to further complicate Wolfowitz's plans to send a new resident country director to Iraq because the war he advocated on the grounds of bringing security and stability to the Iraqi people has now come to haunt one of his own employees.

Wolfowitz has been negotiating a contract with a new resident director in Iraq despite some objections from staff and the board of directors. The Bank, however, has reportedly promised that the new country director would be guarded by a dedicated security team, including for occasional controlled visits outside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

The appointment , if enacted by Wolfowitz, likely means the Bank would release new loans to the occupied Arab nation, despite the deteriorating security situation and recent disclosures of massive corruption in reconstruction efforts.

Prior to his appointment in June 2005, there was staff uproar that the man most associated with the Iraq war would run the World Bank, an international organization, and push it towards greater involvement in the war-torn nation.

(Inter Press Service)

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