Iraq: "We are committed to this country"
As the ICRC mourned the loss of a staff member shot dead south of Baghdad in July – the second to be killed in Iraq since April – it began a major effort to analyse why the attack took place, with one over-riding aim: to maintain its humanitarian commitment and activities as far as possible.
Present and active in Iraq without interruption since 1980, the ICRC had in recent months been steadily building up a large-scale operation to ensure protection and assistance for Iraqis exhausted by years of war, sanctions and internal tension.
It had been visiting prisoners of war and other detainees in more than 30 places around the country, and was putting in place mechanisms for dealing with the mounting number of requests from families desperate for news of their missing relatives.
At the same time more than 20 national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies had contributed expertise, goods and cash to support essential projects, particularly in the fields of health and hygiene – domains in which the ICRC had built up broad experience over the years of its presence in Iraq.
Coping with the shock
The immediate effect of the murder of Nadisha Yasassri Ranmuthu – as always in such tragic circumstances – was to put the operation on standby for a few days while the ICRC team - numbering some 700 Iraqi staff and 130 expatriates – tried to cope with the shock. A high-level mission was sent from Geneva to offer support and begin the difficult task of analysing why this had happened and how activities might proceed while ensuring the safety of the staff.
“It’s one of the worst experiences for all those involved: coping with the grief, thinking about the suffering of Nadisha's parents, his wife and daughter, his friends and colleagues in Sri Lanka and beyond, " says Pierre Krähenbühl, ICRC's director of operations. " We worry about our Iraqi colleague who was wounded in the same incident, about his recovery. At the same time, we are acutely aware of all the hardship and danger the local population is enduring and all that needs to be done for it . After all it is the Iraqis themselves who suffer most as a result of the prevailing insecurity.”
“But a detailed review of what has happened has to be carried out because we need to understand how we can realistically continue our work in any sustained way, and that is what is essential for many people today in Iraq,” adds Pierre Krähenbühl. “There might not be an immediate humanitarian catastrophe looming but there are immense needs and we know fro m experience in other situations how important the input of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement can be.”
Tracing remains a priority
Work has resumed, within a tighter framework of security rules and with a temporary reduction of staff. Visits to detainees, and the huge task of dealing with requests to trace family members remain a priority and will continue – an important responsibility towards the hundreds of people who visit the ICRC’s offices around the country every day . Water and habitat activities have also resumed, albeit at a reduced level.
However, before the longer-term implications can be determined, the analysis of what happened and why will have to be completed over the coming weeks. Questions such as the perception of the ICRC by various players and the population at large are being examined; efforts will be made to deepen the understanding of the events through talks with representatives of a broad cross-section of Iraqi society.
“There had been no indication of a threat against the ICRC or our partners in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement,” comments Pierre Krähenbühl. " At the heart of our efforts must be the attempt to be known and perceived as a specifically neutral humanitarian organization, acting independently from any political or military actor present in Iraq. We are committed to this country and are determined to stay on.”