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Old hands keep wheels turning in Iraq

16-04-2003

Just prior to the conflict in March-April 2003 the ICRC delegation in Iraq comprised some 400 staff, including 35 expatriates from almost a dozen countries. In interviews before the fighting started, two of them talked about their jobs; one of them - Vatche Arslanian - was killed in crossfire as he drove through Baghdad on 8 April.

 

    One of the most emotional moments for Vatche was comforting families during the repatriation of prisoners of war from Iran    
press release (See of 09.04.03)

 Vatche Arslanian (47), from New Brunswick in Canada, began working in Iraq in July 2001 as logistics manager. He described his tasks: 

 I manage 40 staff and am responsible for 65 vehicles, 55 generators and five warehouses. I provide support to major humanitarian programmes that focus on water and sanitation rehabilitation, orthopaedics, health, and relief…  

 … my day begins with reviewing the internal mail messages and assigning tasks to each section of the logistics department. At 8 a.m. we have a staff meeting to discuss and plan the activities of the day. I am in regular contact with the programme coordinators to follow up and provide guidance on various logistical issues; I visit the workshop and the warehouses; I liaise with ICRC headquarters in Geneva to deal with upcoming issues or seek instructions. I occasionally meet with representatives of the Iraqi foreign ministry. And of course there are a lot of internal meetings…!  

    

 … I travel throughout Iraq regularly, as we have sub-delegations in Basra (520 km south-east of Baghdad) and in Arbil (400 km to the north), as well as two other offices in the north, at Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah. Occasionally my work takes me to Amman, Jordan, where ICRC has a logistics base – I have to coordinate the shuttles, cargo and the arrival of the pending shipments - due to the sanctions, all the items imported from outside of Iraq must transit through Jordan…  

    

 … there are many challenges. For instance, the heat in the summer can rise to 55 or even 60 degrees C; the distances we travel are quite far; we need a green light from the UN sanctions committee to import any items, except for medicines. Procurement is a time-consuming task, as we cannot find all the items and materials needed because of the sanctions…  

    

 … Iraqi people are very worried about the prospect of war, and this reflects in all facets of life, especially during the past few months. It is extremely important to have lots of patience, flexibility and optimism. Our reward is the interaction with the Iraqi people, who are are very friendly, generous and polite. Our Iraqi staff are highly qualified, some of them have worked with the ICRC for many years.  

    

    

 
    Jeremy England (at right), ICRC cooperation delegate, in discussion with   International Federation Health Delegate Anne Bull and Iraqi Red Crescent   volunteer Ezzedine Muhammad Shafiq.    
 
 
  © Christopher Black/International Federation    
   
 

Now an Austalian citizen, Jeremy England (39) was born in Christchurch, New Zealand. Like his colleague Vatche, he has worked for ICRC before coming to Iraq. His job was to oversee cooperation activities with partners in the Iraqi Re d Crescent and the International Federation:

 My role is to work with all partners in the Movement to assure our effectiveness and to build the capacity of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) to serve its own community. Pulling together we can maximise our help to those in need. The Movement is having to prepare for the possibility of a renewed humanitarian crisis. For me, this is a new and sensitive task: preparing for the worst while improving existing activities – and of course hoping for the best. Maintaining this two-pronged approach is the major pressure of this mission, both psychologically and in terms of time…  

    

 … a further challenge has been learning to function in a new culture, trying to build trust and communication between institutions in a regimented and highly centralized environment. However, working with local organizations around the world, as well as within my own Red Cross at home, has taught me that every system has its logic. Showing respect and understanding for local conditions and processes and making our own response consistent makes it possible to achieve real partnership and successes…  

    

 … with the support of the ICRC and Federation over the past ten years, the Iraqi Red Crescent has built up its national outreach from only three to all 18 administrative districts, expanding its programmes at the same time. ICRC's focus has been to strengthen the society’s programmes aimed at restoring family links severed by previous conflicts, improving safety and logistic systems in case of new conflict and supporting information programmes about international humanitarian law…  

    

 … building a Movement response to the menace of unexploded ordnance and mines has been a special project. Bringing in experienced personnel from ICRC in the Balkans (where I have worked before) has enabled us to launch a new public awareness programme in southern Iraq to help Iraqis avoid accidents caused by such dangers…  

    

 … these efforts complement a long-running orthopaedic programme, using Lebanese, Irish and Greek expertise, Norwegian financial support and the Iraqis’ own staff and infrastructure. I can honestly say the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement manages one of Iraq's most effective orthopaedic centres with the best figures for patient follow-up.