Iraq: civilians still suffering undue hardship

30-11-2010 Operational Update

The lack of security is hampering efforts to provide essential services for civilians. The ICRC is doing its utmost to help meet the most pressing needs. This is an update on these and other ICRC activities carried out in Iraq in September and October.

Despite improvements in the security situation achieved over the recent years in many parts of Iraq, ongoing violence continues to claim the lives of hundreds of men, women and children every month, and to have a serious impact on the lives of many more.

Over the past year, the lives of many Iraqi civilians have not changed for the better. Civilians continue to carry the heaviest burden amid the widespread violence. They are still the main victims of the indiscriminate attacks and mass explosions that have taken place in the governorates of Baghdad, Ninewa, Diyala, Anbar, Najaf, Kerbala and Basra, and that have left, on average, hundreds of people wounded or dead each month this year.

"Indiscriminate attacks against civilians inflict tremendous suffering. They are clearly unacceptable. They are contrary to international humanitarian law and to the most basic principles of humanity," said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Iraq. "Civilians must be protected against violence, as must be medical personnel and facilities".

The humanitarian situation in Iraq remains serious. Iraqis are filled with anxiety and uncertainty about what the future holds. Vulnerable people, such as women heading households, disabled people and detainees, continue to depend to some extent on outside help to meet basic needs.

The lack of security and wanton violence have had a considerable effect on the feasibility of providing essential services for the population. The ICRC is doing its utmost to help meet the most pressing needs, especially in rural areas and in the places hardest hit by the conflict and other violence. ICRC activities aim primarily at ensuring that people have access to adequate health, water and sanitation services, and at helping the destitute and other needy people.

Visits to detainees held under Iraqi, Kurdistan Regional Government and USF-I authority remain a priority for the ICRC. "Ensuring that detainees are treated humanely and are held in conditions that respect their dignity has been our constant concern since we started working in Iraq 30 years ago," said Mr Barth.

The ICRC continues to speak out about the plight of conflict victims in Iraq. It does so in dialogue with as many parties as possible that can influence the situation on the ground. Its aim is to bring about greater respect for civilians and detainees, and to ensure that unimpeded access is granted for humanitarian action to help the people in greatest need throughout the country.

"The role of the ICRC, as an impartial humanitarian organization, is crucial to efforts to protect civilians from harm and to ensure that detainees are treated properly," said Mr Barth.
In September and October 2010, in response to the unstable and often challenging security environment, the ICRC further adjusted its activities with the aim of providing assistance to those who need it most.

Bringing aid to vulnerable people

The ICRC has maintained its support for people facing special difficulties earning a living and supporting their families, such as women heading households and people with disabilities. In September and October:

  • hygiene kits and food parcels were provided for more than 5,600 people in the governorate of Mosul;
  • emergency aid was provided for more than 170 displaced people in Sulaimaniya governorate;
  • 95 grants were made in Kirkuk, Ninewa, Dohuk, Sulaimaniya and Erbil governorates to enable disabled people to start small businesses and regain economic self-sufficiency. Around 700 disabled people have received such aid since 2008;
  • the livestock of 731 needy farmers in the Kifri district of Diyala governorate were vaccinated;
  • around 950 metric tonnes of wheat seed were delivered to some 3,800 farmers in the governorates of Diyala, Anbar, Salahadin, Baghdad and Babil to help them restore their food production;
  • 50 kilometres of irrigation canals serving over 7,000 people were cleaned and renovated in the Khalis and Kifri districts of Diyala governorate;
  • 600 sheep and 38 metric tonnes of fodder were distributed to 200 farmers in the Baaj district of Ninewa governorate.

Assisting hospitals and physical rehabilitation centres

In some rural and conflict-prone areas, health-care services are still struggling to meet the needs of the civilian population. The ICRC continues to help renovate the premises of health-care facilities and train staff. Limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services are provided by the ICRC to help disabled people reintegrate into the community. In September and October:

  • 10 doctors and 28 nurses successfully took part in a course intended to strengthen emergency services given in Al Sadr Teaching Hospital in Najaf;
  • 273 new patients were fitted with prostheses and 1,148 new patients with orthoses at 10 ICRC-supported centres throughout Iraq.

Since mid-2010, the ICRC has been providing on-site support to 10 primary health-care centres in Diyala, Ninewa, Kirkuk Babil and Diwaniya through regular visits carried out in agreement with local authorities. The support extended includes:

  • structural upgrades and maintenance of water supply networks;
  • problem-solving in the delivery of emergency stabilization and referral services, vaccinations and preventive consultations for pregnant women;
  • ongoing exchanges of information with the authorities aiming at mobilizing appropriate human resources and at guaranteeing regular stock availability of medicine and vaccines.

Providing clean water and sanitation

Access to clean water remains difficult in much of Iraq. ICRC engineers continue to repair and upgrade water, electrical and sanitary facilities, especially in places where violence remains a concern and in rural areas, to improve the quality of services provided in communities and health-care facilities. In September and October, these activities included:

Emergency assistance:

The ICRC delivered water by truck:

  • in Zharawa district, Sadr City, Husseinia and Maamal to 6,384 internally displaced people;
  • to the 385-bed Al Imam Ali General Hospital;
  • to the 400-bed Al Kindy General Hospital in Baghdad, which was struggling to cope with summer water shortages.

Support for health-care facilities:

The ICRC completed work upgrading:

  • Tarmiyah General Hospital, which serves between 250 and 300 outpatients daily, in Baghdad governorate;
  • Tamour primary health-care centre, which serves 50 patients per day, in Kirkuk governorate.

Water supply in hospitals:

  • The ICRC completed the installation of drinking-water purification units in Baquba General Hospital, Muqdadiya General Hospital, Baladrooz General Hospital and Al Zahraa Maternity Hospital, with an overall capacity of 600 beds, in Diyala governorate.

Drinking-water supply:

  • Five main projects benefiting around 725,000 people were completed throughout the country.

Visiting detainees

ICRC delegates visit detainees in order to monitor the conditions in which they are being held and the treatment they receive. In all cases, the ICRC shares its findings and recommendations confidentially with the detaining authorities, with the aim of obtaining improvements where necessary.

In September and October, the ICRC visited detainees held by the correctional service of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defence and various Kurdish Regional Government authorities in places of detention in Basra, Thi Qar/Nasiriya, Baghdad, Babil, Kirkuk, Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya governorates.

In some of these places, to help the detaining authority improve conditions of detention, the ICRC gave detainees mattresses, blankets and recreational items such as books and games.

The ICRC makes a special effort to restore and maintain ties between detainees and their families. In September and October, over 1,000 Red Cross messages were exchanged between detainees and their families in Iraq and abroad. The ICRC also responded to around 800 enquiries from families seeking information on detained relatives. In addition, it issued 249 certificates of detention to former detainees. The ICRC facilitated the voluntary repatriation of two released detainees, and issued two travel documents to refugees to enable them to resettle abroad.

Clarifying what happened to missing people

In its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC continues to chair the mechanisms set up to address the cases of people who went missing in connection with the 1990-1991 Gulf War. At the 67th session of the Technical Sub-Committee of the Tripartite Commission, held on 28 September in Kuwait, the members of the sub-committee reaffirmed their commitment to accounting for people who went missing in connection with the war. At the sub-committee's next meeting, which will take place in Kuwait in November, preparations will be made for a joint field mission to the south of Iraq to check on suspected burial sites.

On 27 and 28 October, representatives of Iran and Iraq held a high-level meeting in Geneva under ICRC auspices with the aim of determining what happened to people missing in connection with the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. The meeting was the first of its kind following the signature in October 2008 of a memorandum of understanding between Iran, Iraq and the ICRC aimed at expediting the search for information on people previously registered as, or presumed to be, prisoners of war and on others who have gone missing, and at identifying mortal remains.

Relieving the suffering of the families of missing persons by clarifying what happened to their loved ones is one of the ICRC's priorities. The ICRC continues to provide the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights and Baghdad's Medical-Legal Institute with the technical support they require to exchange information and build up their capacity in the area of forensics.

Promoting international humanitarian law

Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC's work. The organization also endeavours to promote international humanitarian law within civil society. In this framework, it organizes presentations for various audiences, which include military personnel, prison staff, students and professors.
In September and October, information sessions on international humanitarian law were organized for members of the Iraqi Army, the Peshmerga forces and Assayesh security forces. In October, a "train-the-trainers" course was organized for 14 members of the Iraqi Centre for Military Values and Professional Leadership Development. One member of the Iraqi armed forces attended an advanced course on international humanitarian law at the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy, and another attended a workshop on rules of engagement, also held in Italy.


An Iraqi man in Mosul grieves for members of his family killed in car bombings.  

An Iraqi man in Mosul grieves for members of his family killed in car bombings.

Ninawa, Baaj district. The ICRC distributes livestock to support vulnerable communities. 

Ninawa, Baaj district. The ICRC distributes livestock to support vulnerable communities.

Al Sadr hospital, Najaf. An amputee at a physical rehabilitation session.  

Al Sadr hospital, Najaf. An amputee at a physical rehabilitation session.

The ICRC rehabilitating a water-treatment plant at Qadissiya in Baghdad.  

The ICRC rehabilitating a water-treatment plant at Qadissiya in Baghdad.

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