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Iraq bulletin - 20 June 2003

20-06-2003 Operational Update

Latest reports from ICRC staff in the field (covering 6-15 June)

 FOCUS ON THE PROBLEM OF EXPLOSIVE REMNANTS OF WAR  

Explosive remnants of war (ERW) is a term used to describe a wide range of explosive munitions (unexploded or abandoned) which remain in an area after an armed conflict has ended. This includes artillery shells, grenades, mortar bombs, cluster bombs and other submunitions, rockets and missiles. All of these, along with anti-personnel landmines and abandoned armoured vehicles, small arms and light weapons, constitute a threat to the civilian population. Any mishandling of such material can cause death or serious injury.

To prevent accidents, explosive remnants of war must therefore be cleared as rapidly as possible and warnings given to civilians of the dangers involved. It is vital that control be rapidly acquired over small arms and light weapons remaining in circulation after an armed conflict, by disarming combatants and other armed groups and destroying surplus weapons. It is also important to identify and secure arsenals of weapons. Serious dangers are involved if large numbers of weapons are left to circulate in an already tense environment in which the society is facing many challenges.

Explosive remnants of war in Iraq are life threatening, with casualties reported daily. For the ICRC's regional ERW advisor, this is the worst situation he has seen in over 15 countries where he has worked. Especially striking is the overwhelming number of abandoned armour ed vehicles and ammunition stores, in addition to the unexploded ordnance (UXO) of various types (cluster bombs, mines, etc) inherited from previous conflicts. Children reportedly play football in the midst of unexploded ordnance.

Several hospitals have already reported accidents resulting from explosives, which prompted the ICRC to visit the victims in order to obtain a clearer picture of the nature and scope of the danger. The ICRC's ERW specialist, along with the health team, visited four hospitals in Basra (most accidents are reported from southern Iraq). Hospital records revealed that 44 victims were admitted over a period of one month (10 April to 10 May), but this number is not representative of the scope of the threat: indeed, hospitals did not keep a record of the fatalities (when people admitted are already dead), nor did they register light injuries. Seventy-two victims of ERW were admitted to hospitals in the southern Missan governorate over a period of 40 days (10 April to 20 May).

Because the problem is not a recent one, the ICRC had already started programmes to raise awareness of ERW before the last war broke out, but those activities were suspended during the active hostilities. Today, the ICRC is working closely with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society to collect data on victims and on the affected areas/villages. Volunteers from all IRCS branches have been designated to work actively on the issue. So far, a total of 300 volunteers from 11 IRCS branches (out of 18) have been trained and have started collecting the information that will enable the danger zones to be mapped and an understanding gained about the victims. In addition, IRCS volunteers distribute ICRC-produced material (leaflets, posters, etc.) during their trips. Radio spots carrying the message will soon be broadcast on local and international stations that reach Iraq.

 BAGHDAD AND CENTRAL IRAQ  

 General situation/security  

Two facts strike the observer immediately: the free-falling economic situation and a growing anger with the Occupying Power. Both foment impatience, frustration and even violence amongst an Iraqi population that sees no light at the end of the " liberating " tunnel. The lack of cash, the fluctuating rate of the US dollar against the Iraqi dinar and an unemployment rate of 50 per cent are still on the agenda two months after the fall of Baghdad. Hopes for a brighter tomorrow are frustrated throughout the Iraqi territory, from north to south.

The curfew called by the Coalition Forces – slightly modified – is still in place in Baghdad (11 pm to 5.30 am), although the ICRC maintains stricter rules (8 pm to 6 am).

Coordinated attacks against the Coalition Forces have continued over the reporting period, prompting the launch of operations Peninsula and Desert Scorpion. The areas around Tikrit, including Hawiji and Balad, are reportedly the most dangerous in terms of security, although the Baghdad Airport road and the Baghad-Ramadi road have also been the scene of mine and banditry incidents respectively.

 Detention/people deprived of their freedom  

On 14 and 15 June the ICRC visited detention areas in and around Baghdad to register newly arrived detainees and distribute/collect " safe and well " and Red Cross messages. The ICRC is pursuing such visits.

 Restoring contact between family members/Red Cross messages  

The ICRC and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society organized a seminar attended by 13 (out of 18) IRCS branches to reiterate the roles of the two organizations on restoring contact between family members, tracing missing persons and distributing Red Cross messages.

 Medical situation  

A lack of cooking gas, oxygen and fuel for generators is a problem for most hospitals, with no sign of improvement in the near future. Security is another concern. Although the Coalition Forces are present in some hospitals, many others are " protected " by armed groups, who interfere with the administration and management of the health structures. Looting still takes place occasionally. The lack of air conditioning is a real problem.

The ICRC is still conducting its thorough evaluation of the medical system and structures across the country. The first findings (after several weeks of survey) show that many hospitals need rehabilitation, maintenance and improved hygiene.

Moreover, although the Iraqi pharmaceutical company Kidamia is more or less functional, distribution flows are not smooth, especially in Baghdad where the problem is aggravated by the lack of fuel (transport cannot be organized for the medical supplies to reach the hospitals). Salaries have not yet been paid to the staff of Kidamia, which has an effect on their motivation to work.

The ICRC continues to visit hospitals and health centres with a view to meeting their most urgent needs. Drugs and medical supplies (and medical literature for some) were delivered to medical structures in Baghdad and the central areas.

Meanwhile, mobile ICRC workshops are carry ing out maintenance work on generators in hospitals, fixing broken windows and light, sewage and cooling systems, and installing and repairing air conditioning units. Major rehabilitation work is being done in al Rashad, Ibn Khatib and Baquba hospitals, while ICRC teams are distributing oxygen to some 20 hospitals in Baghdad and 20 in other directorates (Qadisiya, Diyala, Babel, Karbala, Najaf, Salah-el-Deen and Wasit).

 Economic security  

While waiting for the oil-for-food rations to be distributed, and until the public distribution system is fully operational again, the ICRC has delivered enough food for one month to several hospitals in Baghdad and Karbala.

 Water and sanitation  

The ICRC teams of engineers and technicians are carrying out quick repairs at about 20 sites in the central area of Iraq: maintenance of generators, repairs of leakages and electrical connections, etc. Meanwhile, four major projects are currently under way at water facilities in Baghdad (Sabaa Nissan, Abu Nawas, al Habibiya and al Dora).

Repair work is being carried out and spare parts delivered to water facilities in the governorates of Babel, Wasit, Karbala, Qadisiya and Najaf.

In parallel, the ICRC-sponsored trucks are distributing some 300,000 litres of drinking water to poor suburbs around Baghdad.

 BASRA AND SOUTHERN IRAQ  

 Detention/people deprived of their freedom  

    

An ICRC team made a follow-up visit lasting several days to Umm Qasr, to see the remaining prisoners of war (POWs) and detainees in southern Iraq.

 Restoring contact between family members/Red Cross messages  

Distribution of Red Cross messages written by POWs continued in Nasiriya and Amara.

On 11 June, Coalition Forces returned the human remains of two Iraqi women who had died in Bahrain while undergoing medical treatment for their war wounds. The ICRC located their families and facilitated the handover.

 Medical situation  

Hospitals in the southern governorates of Basra and Missan are facing an acute shortage of oxygen: it is so scarce that its price has gone through the roof and is no longer affordable for medical structures.

 Water and sanitation  

ICRC teams have carried out major emergency work over the reporting period in the governorates of Basra, Muthana and Missan.

 Economic security/hospitals  

    

 Distributions:  

  • Amara, general hospital, 5,000 kg wheat flour

  • Amara, al Zahrawi hospital, 2,000 kg wheat flour

  • Basra, home for the elderly, 11 mattresses, 37 items of clothing

  • Basra, Tannumah camp, 37 tents

  • Basra, committee for the blind, 35 f ood parcels

  • Amara, house for people affected by leprousy, 8 mattresses, 8 items of clothing

 NORTHERN IRAQ  

 General situation/security  

There were no incidents to report during this period.

 Detention/people deprived of their freedom  

    

On 10 and 11 June the ICRC team in northern Iraq visited US detention facilities in Kirkuk for the first time, and saw 45 Iraqi detainees.

 Water and sanitation  

    

The ICRC's repair/maintenance work on water facilities in the north is currently being planned, with some projects already under way (in Arbil, Dohuk, Mosul and Kirkuk).