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Iraq: Update 9 April 2003

09-04-2003 Operational Update

As the conflict in Iraq unfolds dramatically, this update provides information on ICRC activities in recent days.

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ICRC presence  
 

Since the first airstrikes over Baghdad on 20 March, the ICRC has remained present in the capital. The sub-delegation in Basra in the south of the country has also stayed open, run by national staff until 29 March, when it was reinforced by a team of 4 expatriates who had been withdrawn to Kuwait shortly before the start of the conflict. In the north of the country, a team of 4 expatriates is based in Arbil. The ICRC's offices in Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk and Diyana are staffed by national employees. In total, some 120 national staff are still working for the ICRC in Iraq, including 50 in Baghdad.

From 31 March until 6 April, a team of 15 delegates, including a doctor and 6 interpreters, from the Kuwait delegation, was based in Umm Qasr, in order to carry out a first round of visits to Iraqi prisoners of war (POWs).

An ICRC aircraft based in Kuwait si nce 24 March enables the ICRC to move people and equipment in the region.

As outlined in its Budget Extension Appeal for Iraq, launched on 20 March 2003, the ICRC is focusing on life-saving interventions in Iraq. So far, this has primarily involved making sure that wounded people are receiving the necessary medical care in hospitals; that the residents of major towns have access to clean drinking water; and that vulnerable displaced people, up to now almost exclusively in northern Iraq, receive the necessary assistance. Since 31 March, the ICRC has been visiting Iraqi POWs held in the south of Iraq.

 
General situation 
 

A considerable intensification of the conflict over the past few days throughout the country, especially in the capital Baghdad, has led to a dramatic worsening of the situation in humanitarian terms.

Up until the end of last week, although bombing over the cities had been continuous during the daytime and overnight, the hospitals visited by the ICRC were seen to be coping. From 5 April, hospitals in Baghdad reported the presence of several hundred war-wounded patients with new casualties coming in all the time. The hospitals and their staff were clearly stretched to the limit. It was becoming increasingly difficult to know for certain which roads inside the capital were still practicable and safe. Meanwhile, over last weekend, traffic in town was reported to be frenetic, with entire families leaving their homes, heading for relatives'houses in other parts of the city considered to be safer.

As at 8 April, the situation in the city was extremely critical, with heavy fighting taking place in central areas. Hospitals were reported to be overwhelmed by the influx of war-wounded. There was news that a major raw water pumping station (Qanat) in the north of the city had stopped functioning.

In Basra, heavy fighting in and around the town means that, here too, the ICRC team has been moving round with great caution. There were reports on Saturday that, despite the tense situation, people were out and about, shops were open, and that fresh supplies of fruit and vegetables had been reaching the city.

In northern Iraq, the situation has been increasingly tense over the past days, with heavy bombardments south of Arbil and Dohuk. Military activity along the frontline dividing coalition forces and Kurdish factions on the one hand and Iraqi forces on the other has been increasing.

Because of the lack of access, little is known to the ICRC about the situation in other cities. Telephone lines are no longer working, making it difficult to obtain reliable information on the situation in various parts of the country. News and worrying rumours coming in from various governorates can not be crosschecked.

The ICRC is particularly concerned about the medical and water situation in the southern towns of Baghdad governorate (Abu Ghraib, Mamudiyah), in the towns of Hilla and Kerbala further south, and in Al-Anbar governorate to the west of Baghdad. These areas, last visited by ICRC delegates on 1-3 April, can not be accessed by ICRC Baghdad at this stage. Worrying reports have been received that hospitals there have been having great difficulty in coping with the influx of injured patients, in particular since it is no longer possible to refer patients to hospitals in Baghdad for treatment and surgery due to military operations on the access roads.