Iraq bulletin – 6 June 2003
06-06-2003 Operational Update
Latest reports from ICRC staff in the field (covering 25 May to 1 June).
FOCUS ON RESTORING CONTACT BETWEEN FAMILY MEMBERS
In times of conflict, the immediate instinct for self-preservation is quickly followed by an urgent need to ensure family members are safe and well. In environments where telecommunications have broken down, the ICRC's work to restore contact between family members has proved to be of great value.
Back in March, before the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, people in Baghdad, Arbil and Basra were already using ICRC satellite phone to reassure their families abroad. Similar services were provided for Iraqis who had fled to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. After the major military operations ended, mobile ICRC units extended the satellite phone services to include large cities across southern and northern Iraq. The provision of satellite phones is now being pared back, as many low-cost call centres open around the country.
Special tracing unit set up
Also in March the ICRC in Geneva set up a special tracing unit for Iraq to centralize data on prisoners of war (POWs) and information needed to restore contact between families. The unit comprises more than 50 people, mainly English/Arabic translators, data entry operators, IT technicians and specia lists in detention-related and tracing activities. Following ICRC visits to the places of detention in Umm Qasr, the first step was to inform families of POWs and civilian internees of the capture of their loved ones. To do so they wrote 3 simple words - " safe and well " - that ICRC delegates in different cities across Iraq delivered to families anxious for news.
The service was later extended to allow Iraqis to send and receive written messages from their families abroad. Since the early stages of the hostilities, the ICRC has collected from Iraqi POWs and civilian internees a total of 15,146 " safe and well " messages. More than 9,000 of them were forwarded to the addressees in Iraq and abroad through different National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The distribution of messages is still a daily activity.
Concerted effort with National Societies
Restoring contact between family members split up by the war in Iraq has required the joint efforts of different ICRC delegations in the region and Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 66 countries. Further, different Red Cross and Red Crescent offices around the world receive and process written messages from Iraqis, addressed to their relatives in foreign countries. In return, Iraqis abroad who wish to get in touch with relatives in Iraq send their letters to the Red Cross or Red Crescent Society of their country of residence, which forwards them to the ICRC in Geneva, which forwards them in turn to Baghdad for delivery.
A special website was set up in connection with the war in Iraq, where people can register their names and check whether their relatives are on the lists of people anxious for news.
BAGHDAD AND CENTRAL IRAQ
A curfew (11pm to 6am) called by the coalition forces is still in place in Baghdad, although the ICRC maintains stricter rules (8pm to 6am).
The security situation remains highly volatile, with recurrent incidents especially in the Ramadi-Feluja-Tikrit areas. Despite efforts to form a credible police force, law and order are still not assured in most parts of the country, and criminality remains a major security concern. Moreover, accidents caused by explosive remnants of war are regularly reported.
The ICRC medical teams continue their visits to different hospitals and medical structures, providing them with ad hoc supplies where needs are urgent. In parallel, the ICRC delivers medical supplies to the Iraqi pharmaceutical company (Kimadia), which in turn delivers them to the hospitals and health centres that have placed orders. Many medical structures have already received supplies from Kidamia (including in Babel, Karbala and Najaf), but the ICRC has also delivered medical and surgical supplies to the following:
in Baghdad: al Zaafaraniya general hospital, Ibn al Khatib hospital, al Alawiya maternity hospital, al Juader, al Habibyia, Ibn al Baladi, al Yarmouk, al Noor, and Iskan paediatric hospital;
in the central regions of Iraq: in Anbar governorate (Feluja primary health care directorate, Feluja general hospital, Hay-Nazal health centre), Salaheddeen governorate (Samarra general hospital, Beled general hospital), in Babel (al Mujan hospital, al Hilla surgical hospital and Babel maternity and paediatric hospital)
In most of those hospitals a security system is gradually falling into place, either through Iraqi civilian security guards trained by the coalition, or by independent armed elements (al Hawza group). The coalition has also provided some hospitals with fuel.
The ICRC's orthopaedic centres outside Baghdad (Basra, Najaf, Mosul and Arbil), as well as in al Wasity (in the Baghdad region), are now open but production is limited owing to fear of looting.
Water and sanitation
Repairs to the water and sanitation structures in hospitals and health centres continued this week in and around Baghdad. The aim is to provide emergency intervention and repairs for water- and power-supply systems, and to deliver essentials such as oxygen and cooking gas to the medical structures (Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, Qadissiya, Diyala and Babel).
In parallel, 12 water tankers rented by the ICRC delivered water to 39 sites in the eastern region of Rusafa, while 14 bladder tanks were filled with water delivered by three ICRC water tankers in Husayniya district.
A convoy of non-food aid for 1,000 families left the ICRC's warehouse in Kuwait and reached Najaf, where the Iraq Red Crescent Society will distribute the items.
BASRA AND SOUTHERN IRAQ
As planned, the Iraqi police force is functioning again, while a rehabilitated prison is scheduled to re-open in Basra's Ma'aqal neighbourhood. Security, particularly in the city of Basra, has greatly improved recently, with fewer shooting incidents occurring and more robust law enforcement by both the British forces and the Iraqi police.
The general hospital, the children's hospital and the teaching hospital in Basra received ten tonnes of wheat flour each from the ICRC, while the boys'orphanage received wheat flour, a stove (with bottles of gas) and items for personal hygiene.
Explosive remnants of war
The ICRC is focusing on spreading information to the villages where the risks of incidents are high. To do so, the ICRC is providing training to Iraq Red Crescent Society (IRCS) volunteers on how to spread awareness among children and adults about the dangers of unexploded ordnance and how to gather information about victims. This week 22 volunteers from the IRCS in Amara attended the training.
Information sessions are held, and posters and leaflets are distributed to all IRCS branches in southern Iraq. Further, the ICRC has just finalized the production of radio spots which are soon to be aired across the country by local radio stations.
Although sporadic shooting can still be heard in Arbil, no casualties have been reported this week. Rural areas around Mosul, as well as the cities of Tellaafar and Sinjar, appear calm. In addition, the road between Kirkuk and Sulaymaniya is safe for use again. The big news in this region is that the telephone services cut since 1991 were finally restored between Dohuk and Mosul.
A donation of goods from the Egyptian Red Crescent Society arrived in Amman, and is planned to reach Iraq at a later stage.
Food, water, paraffin and household items (including blankets and stoves) were distributed to refugees who have fled Iraq but are still at the Jordan/Iraq border.