Red Cross: Iraqi Situation Getting Worse

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 11, 2007; 1:54 PM

GENEVA -- Millions of Iraqis are in a "disastrous" situation that is getting worse, with mothers appealing for someone to pick up the bodies on the street so their children will be spared the horror of looking at them on their way to school, the international Red Cross said Wednesday.

Thousands of bodies lie unclaimed in mortuaries, with family members either unaware that they are there or too afraid to recover them, according to Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the neutral agency's director of operations.

Medical professionals also have been fleeing the country after cases where their colleagues were killed or abducted, the group said in a 13-page report. "Hospitals and other key services are desperately short of staff," Kraehenbuehl said. "According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, more than half the doctors are said to have already left the country."

The report, "Civilians without Protection: The Ever-Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq," was produced over the past two to three weeks, a spokesman said _ well after the stepped-up American-led military operations in the capital began Feb. 14.

The report went beyond the International Committee of the Red Cross' usual appeals for all sides to protect civilians as required by the Geneva Conventions. It added photographs and quotes from the civilians to describe the situation.

"Once I was called to an explosion site," it quoted a young Baghdad humanitarian worker named Saad as saying. "There I saw a 4-year-old boy sitting beside his mother's body, which had been decapitated by the explosion. He was talking to her, asking her what had happened."

Kraehenbuehl said the situation has steadily deteriorated in recent years _ especially since February 2006, when an attack on a Shiite shrine in Samarra set off a wave of sectarian violence. He said there had been no immediate improvement in the Baghdad area as a result of the recent security crackdown, though in southern Iraq the security situation has improved in certain instances.

ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal said the report, together with Kraehenbuehl's comments, "reflects the situation on the ground now."

It is difficult to determine the numbers of people killed in shootings, bombings and military operations, but overall the situation in the country has been steadily deteriorating, with numbers of refugees swelling, medical staff fleeing and other problems growing, Kraehenbuehl said.

Kraehenbuehl said a colleague recently had asked several Iraqi women what their most pressing need was.

The colleague said that, after a long silence, the women answered: "The most important thing that anyone could do would be to help collect the bodies that line the streets in front of our homes every morning. No one dares to touch them, but for us it is unbearable to have to expose our children to such images every day as we try to bring them to school."

"Humanitarian aid is clearly not enough when it comes to addressing the immense needs of Iraqis in the present disastrous security situation," the report said.

The ICRC is one of the few international organizations continuing to operate in Iraq, but it has cut back since attacks on its staff and Baghdad headquarters in 2003. It employs 415 Iraqis in the country and has an additional 57 international staff based in Iraq and Jordan, but relies on the affiliated Iraqi Red Crescent for much of its information.

© 2007 The Associated Press