Iraq: Who pays the cost? N° 1

On April 8th 2003, the Iraqui Al-Amal Association, the national Social Watch Focal Point, has issued a newsletter on the Iraq war focusing on the analysis of the cost of the war for civilian people.

Iraqi Al-Amal Weekly Newsletter N° 1 – April 8, 2003


1. Humanitarian Conditions throughout Iraq

2. Relief Actions

3. Iraqi Al-Amal’s Work

4. Special: Why Are Civilians Killed?

1. Humanitarian Conditions throughout Iraq

Exodus in Northern Iraq:

There were between 300.000 to 450.000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Iraqi Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, according to a UNOHCI estimation on 21 March, most of whom had fled the towns of Kirkuk, Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniayh and were heading to outlying villages further north. Reportedly, most were staying with relatives and were not in need of immediate assistance. Others, however, were reported to be staying in the open or in caves and cracks in the mountain. UNOHCI reported that Duhok, near the Turkish border, was "now almost depopulated" after about 85% of the city's 120,000 inhabitants have moved to villages further east. Subsequently it was reported that most of IDPs from cities returned to their homes, mainly because of bad weather conditions. It has been reported, however, that many of the inhabitants of towns and villages adjacent to the Gol(Government of Iraq)-controlled area, such as Chumchumal, remain displaced.

Civilians Cannot Flee:

Inhabitants of central and southern Iraq were largely unable to flee into the Kurdish enclave in the north, since the border was shut on 19 March and the GoI checkpoints remain closed. Witnesses said the Iraqi regime has mined the main road coming from Kirkuk to prevent inhabitants from moving, in conjunction with spreading additional military forces into the area. It is worth mentioning also that there is an award of 25 million Iraqi dinar for anyone who informs the Iraqi government of people fleeing into the Kurdish-controlled north. Despite this, it has been reported that hundreds of Iraqis have managed to flee and reach to Erbil and Duhok coming from Musil, Tikrit and Ba’quba.

Bad Weather Causes Further Suffering of IDPs:

Field reports say IDPs in the areas of Sulaymaniayh and Duhok have suffered from bad conditions, where heavy rains, cold wind and snow in mountainous areas forced many of them to return to their homes. This has also affected health status, especially among children many of whom suffered from inflammations and diarrhea as well as coughs and colds. The lack of fuel, along with the insufficiency of shelters and services provided by relief agencies, has exposed IDPs to further risks. Although the majority of IDPs in rural areas are staying with relatives, there are serious concerns for the health situation of those who are not appropriately sheltered, reported the UNHCR.

Iraqis in Syria:

Approximately 2.660 Iraqis have registered with the UNHCR office in Damascus and have sought temporary protection letters prior to and during the first days of war. While mostly entire families, some report that male family members have stayed behind. It is worth referring that the U.S. Committee for Refugees has estimated that there are almost half a million Iraqis in Syria who remain undocumented and are not formally recognized or protected, many of these came during the last Gulf War and have not returned because of the threat of political persecution.

Baghdad’s Hospitals Overwhelmed:

International relief agencies warn of a humanitarian disaster as Baghdad hospitals continue to receive hundreds of injured war victims. There is a severe shortage of medicine and medical supplies in Baghdad hospitals, reported ICRC.

Due to overcrowding in these hospitals, patients risk contracting infectious diseases, such as cholera and respiratory illnesses, according to WHO.

Reportedly, the brutal bombardment of Baghdad does not allow many relief teams to reach hospitals or afflicted areas to offer necessary services. It is noteworthy that UNICEF has warned of the serious danger of cluster bombs, especially to children who form about half the population of Baghdad.

Lack of Medicine:

There is a severe shortage of medicine, appeal relief workers, especially those concerning chronic diseases and women and children. Facing the huge numbers of injuries, stocked medicines are running out quickly and no serious feed-back is so far anticipated as the Oil-for-Food Programme has been suspended.

Lack of Flour in Northern Iraq:

The Kurdish regional government has distributed allocated rations until June 2003 within the Aid-for-Food Programme, including rice, sugar, tea, salt and legumes. However, flour rations only lasted until February and Iraqi Kurdistan people are now deprived of a basic element of their staple diet. It is widely known that since the imposition of sanctions and the first Gulf War in 1991, the Iraqi people have been relying increasingly on relief assistance for their survival needs. Today, sixty percent of the twenty-seven million Iraqi population are totally dependent for their food requirements on the Oil-for-Food Programme.

Nutritional Disaster in Iraq:

UNICEF and WFP have warned that Iraqis will face a severe shortage of food by early May, which could cause a serious human catastrophe. According to previous UN reports, 2.03 million children and about a million pregnant and suckling women would suffer from medium to intense malnutrition during the war. Reports also state that one fourth of Iraqi children already suffer from malnutrition.

Water Crisis in Basra and Nassiriya:

The southern cities of Basra and Nassiriya are witnessing a severe shortage of water since the outbreak of the war. Reportedly, the water system in Basra, a city of more than a million people, has completely failed. Some residents in Basra were pictured filling jerry cans from the sewage-polluted river of Shatt al-Arab, as experts say dirty drinking water could threaten nearly a fifth of Iraq's population with epidemic diseases.UNICEF has reported that Iraq has suffered from shortage of fresh water since the 1991 war with only 70% of water purification stations functioning in cities and only 11% in the countryside.

Women IDPs Bear Brunt of War:

Women are bearing the greatest part of feeding and taking care of their families among IDPs in Iraqi Kurdistan region. Field reports indicate that women in some areas have to cross long distances to reach springs or rivers where they can fill jars and cans with water.

Electricity Down in Basra and Baghdad:

Southern city Basra has suffered from permanent electricity-off since it was first attacked at the beginning of military operations. And last week the Baghdad power grid failed, affecting public health facilities like hospitals and sewage treatment plants. Reportedly, many generating stations and dams in Iraq were destroyed in the 1991 war. Since then, economic sanctions have prevented this infrastructure from being repaired.

Communications, too:

UNICEF has reported that due to the targeting of communication centres in Baghdad by coalition troops, including the targeting of the telephone exchange on April 1st, many relief agencies’ activities have had to be suspended.

2. Relief Actions

US Military Doesn’t Allow NGOs to Function:

As US marines started handing out limited food and water as well as medical treatment in Nassiriya and Umm Qasr, some NGOs criticized relief actions that US-led coalition claim to have provided, arguing that military forces are not qualified to be providing assistance and that this is not their task. Many of communities and NGOs have complained that they have not been allowed to provide their relief actions unless this was done through the coalition’s military forces and in accordance with its terms and interests.

Financial Constraints to UN Relief Operations:

Mindful of the human catastrophe that followed the 1991 Gulf War, UN concerned agencies have been preparing to assist Iraqi people should the war breaks out.

These preparations, however, have been limited by financial constraints. Donor support has so far been insufficient.

However, with the start of war, UN appealed for the humanitarian requirements of the Iraq crisis planning for a six-month response (until the end of September 2003). Preliminary estimations were that US$ 2.218.417.415 will be required to meet the requirements of the different agencies and their programmes over the six-month period, divided into US$ 1.316.774.674 for food aid and US$ 901.642.741 for non-food requirements.

Red Cross halts its work in Baghdad:

The International Committee of the Red Cross has suspended its relief operations in Baghdad, saying the situation is too dangerous to continue, after a Canadian employee went missing when the car he was traveling in was hit by gunfire. The decision to halt operations comes as a second international relief group working in Baghdad, MedecinsSans Frontieres, suspendedwork after two of its staff members vanished in the capital.

3. Iraqi Al-Amal’s Work

Mobile Clinic to Sulaymaniayh:

With financial support of the Greek Committee for International Democratic Solidarity (EEDDA) and the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iraqi Al-Amal Association is sending a mobile clinic to Sulaymaniayh, Iraqi Kurdistan region to help providing urgent medical services to WAPs and IDPs. The mobile clinic will be run by a doctor and a nurse, and will be carrying medicine and medical supplies to be provided to those in need.

Food and Medicine to Iraqi Kurdistan:

As a result of the mass campaign that Secours Populaire Francais had carried out in France on behalf of Iraqi Al-Amal to collect donations, it is intended to deliver food and medicine aids to Iraqi Kurdistan in the coming few days. Based on Al-Amal’s estimations and assessments, lists of needed food and medicines were prepared and distributing positions were fixed.

Mobile Clinic for Pregnant Women:

On 7 April 2003, a contract was signed between Norwegian Popular Aid (NPA) and Iraqi Al-Amal Association to run a mobile clinic for pregnant women in Erbil area. The 2-car mobile clinic will be run by a well qualified medical staff, and will be carrying medicine as well as food and tonics to be provided to pregnant women in afflicted areas.

Iraqi Volunteers:

Believing that humanitarian work must be as much as possible on voluntary basis, Iraqi Al-Amal has appealed to the Iraqi community in Britain to contribute to relief actions in Iraq within IAA work. It is intended, however, to do the same in other European countries as well as the USA.

In coordination with IAA’s international partners, volunteers will get a quick training and will be provided with necessary supplies in order to act affectively.

4. Special: Why Are Civilians Killed?

International public opinion is undoubtedly aware of the Iraq massacres which have reverberated widely within the media over the last three weeks. It was shocking to watch what took place at a Baghdad market on March 28th where at least 55 people were killed and over 100 injured. Two other tragedies were the Najaf massacre on March 31st where 7 women and children were shot dead at a US checkpoint, and the Hilla massacre on April 1st where 33 were killed (among whom were 11 members of the same family, mostly children) and 310 were injured in an air strike on Nader residential district. Human shields suffered the same fate as the civilians they had hoped to protect when two vehicles carrying European and American people were hit on the road between Amman and Baghdad.

These are just some of the crimes that have received most attention in the media and which have caught the public consciousness. However, civilian casualties are ongoing and are a daily occurrence in the coalition’s 24-hour bombardment of Baghdad as well as other large-scale assaults in other areas of Iraq. Casualties only in Baghdad have been admitted on an average of 100 per hour.

Washington claims that the US-led invasion is not aimed at ordinary Iraqis and that the coalition’s aim is to remove Saddam Hussein from power. If this is the case, how can one explain this persistent targeting of civilians, which is surely not just “the fog of war”, as an American spokesman stated in the context of justifying the Najaf massacre. The British Prime minister, Tony Blair, reacted with horror to the images of two British soldiers killed in Basra, while dozens of clips of dead Iraqis failed to draw any condemnation.

This leads one to question the US claim to be the liberators of the Iraqi people, as the Bush administration is obviously unconcerned about the number of Iraqi civilians who are killed on the way to achieve its objectives in the region. It is not usual, however, for a liberating force to tear down the people’s flag and to raise their own in its place, as we witnessed in Umm Qasr.

Perhaps, the coalition was misled by some expatriated Iraqi opposition sectors who claimed that the Iraqi people would up-rise against the regime as soon as the US-led forces began their operations in Iraq, forgetting that Iraqis consider the Americans responsible for their horrific conditions, and that no Iraqi can celebrate forces that bring death and destruction to his country.

At the same time, we cannot vindicate the Iraqi regime for civilian casualties.

It has, first of all, to be held accountable for the recruiting of civilians by force and threatening them with death should they refuse to fight.

Then comes the moving of war to civilian areas, either through hiding in these areas or spreading forces and combatants among civilians. And above all, it is impudently exploiting civilian casualties in order to gain the favour of international public opinion.

Finally, we cannot expect either the US-led coalition or the Iraqi regime to comply with the Geneva Convention in regard to the killing of civilians as both parties have a long history of disobeying international law and committing brutal crimes against civilians.