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Iraq: civilians continue to pay the highest price in the conflict

30-11-2006 Press Briefing

Over 7,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq since September 2006, with over a hundred deaths per day. The ICRC's head of operations for the Middle East and North Africa, Georges Comninos, described the daily reality of Iraqi civilians and the ICRC's efforts to assist and protect them at a press briefing held in Geneva.

" Car bombs, shootings, bombings, abductions and killings have become commonplace. Clearly civilians in Iraq are paying the highest price for the conflict, " said Mr Comninos.

Mr Comninos pointed out that the series of attacks and explosions that occurred in Baghdad and Sadr City last week were followed immediately by further attacks against civilians, illustrating how the cycle of violence continues to be fuelled.

Due to the dire lack of security, the population finds it difficult to obtain essential services such as medical care, clean water and electricity.

Mr Comninos evoked a recent visit to Iraq where he had seen just how hard life has become. " Today it is rare to find a family in Iraq that has been spared. Fear of being killed or kidnapped or of becoming a refugee in one's own country is ever-present. Even staying at home does not always guarantee safety. "

According to estimates of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, more than 42,000 families have been displaced since February 2006.

Given the present circumstances, the ICRC's main priority by far is the protection of the civilian population.

Mr Comninos said that the ICRC remains strongly committed to ensure that the most urgent needs of the Iraqi population are addressed, despite the serious security concerns that limit the organization's presence on the ground and its movements across the country. He highlighted a few of its activities over the last three months.

The ICRC has provided medical and surgical supplies to hospitals in most large cities to help them cope wit h major influxes of casualties, as well as assisting medico-legal institutes throughout the country to increase their capacity to handle dead bodies.

The ICRC, in cooperation with the Iraqi Red Crescent, has also delivered emergency relief in the form of food and other essential items to 14,000 displaced families and aims to provide aid to a further 15,000 families by the end of the year.

This assistance, however, " no matter how meaningful, is only piecemeal in the face of the immensity of the needs, " said Mr Comninos.

He concluded by reminding all parties engaged in the violence that regardless of the complexity of the issues at stake in the Iraqi conflict, " it is unacceptable and contrary to the most basic principles of humanity and law to target persons not participating in the hostilities. State and non-State actors are equally bound by these rules. "

" The ICRC calls again upon all parties to the conflict to respect the rules of international humanitarian law and to spare civilians and civilian property. In addition, it urges all those who can make use of their moral and political influence on the ground to call for respect of human life and dignity. "