By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East
BAGHDAD, Iraq – To mark the five year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International released reports detailing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Both reports highlighted the plight of Iraqi citizens, including: food and water shortages; violence and instability; and human rights abuses committed with impunity.
The ICRC and Amnesty reports expressed concern regarding the critical situation of many of Iraq’s most vulnerable citizens, such as children, families-headed by women, refugees, the elderly and the disabled.
There are over four million displaced Iraqis with at least 2.2 million who are internally displaced. In addition, over 2 million Iraqis have fled to neighboring Syria and Jordan. However, these countries are ill-equipped to provide this large number of refugees with appropriate shelter and humanitarian assistance. As a result, both Syria and Jordan have imposed strict visa restrictions and essentially trapping fleeing refugees within Iraq.
Within Iraq, the humanitarian crisis has been described as “among the most critical in the world.” In July 2007, Oxfam reported that 70 percent of Iraqis lacked access to safe drinking water. ICRC accredited this water crisis to population growth, especially in urban areas, and the lack of trained engineers to repair and maintain the water and sanitation facilities. ICRC pointed to the cholera outbreak in 2007 as one indication of the danger of unsafe water.
In addition to the water situation, Iraqis also face a health care shortage. Not only do hospitals lack adequate supplies to treat the wounded and sick, but they also lack doctors. ICRC stated that according to Iraqi officials, over 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and over 250 kidnapped since March 2003. Of the 34,000 doctors registered in Iraq in 1990, over 20,000 have left.
In addition to water shortages, poverty, and lack of proper health care, Iraqi citizens are frequently victims of sectarian and insurgent violence. While efforts to increase security have produced some results, ordinary Iraqi citizens are killed on a daily basis. Attacks have been increasingly carried out with the intention of maximizing the loss of civilian life.
For example, on March 17, a bomb exploded in the Shiite holy city of Karbala and killed 43 people and injured 73 others. The attack occurred less than a mile away from Imam Hussein shrine, a pilgrimage center for Shia Muslims. In April 2007, two bombings targeted Karbala and resulted in the death of over 100 Iraqis.
Béatrice Mégevand Roggo, the head of the ICRC’s operations in the Middle East and North Africa, said, “Better security in some parts of Iraq must not distract attention from the continuing plight of millions of people who have essentially been left to their own devices.”
Mégevand Roggo added, “To avert an even worse crisis, more attention must be paid to the everyday needs of Iraqis.”
For the reports, please see:
Amnesty International – Iraq: Carnage and Despair: Iraq Five Years On – 17 March 2008
The Guardian – 39 Die in Bomb Attack on Shias – 18 March 2008
New York Times – Bombing Kills 43 in Shiite Holy City in Iraq – 18 March 2008
AFP – Red Cross, Amnesty Paint Grim Picture of Post-Invasion Iraq – 17 March 2008
Amnesty International – Carnage and Despair in Iraq – 17 March 2008
Associated Press – Red Cross: Many Iraqis Still Lack Basics – 17 March 2008
BBC – Bleak Picture of Iraq Conditions – 17 March 2008
Xinhua – Red Cross: Humanitarian Situation Still Critical in Iraq – 17 March 2008