Alarmed by the chaos in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, the International Committee of the Red Cross is urging coalition forces to do everything possible to protect hospitals and water supply systems from looting and destruction.
Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger says U.S. and British troops must do more to protect hospitals and water systems in areas under their control. He says this is an obligation under international conventions governing conduct in war. He says looting of Baghdad's hospitals has led to the virtual collapse of the city's health system. "There is looting of hospitals," he said. "There is looting, and it is not only today or yesterday. It has started earlier on. I can say this openly. It was one of the messages I gave on my level on Wednesday to coalition forces that it is, in our opinion, a priority to secure the environment of hospitals, and in particular, to protect the hospitals from looting."
Senior U.S. military officials say coalition forces will do what they can to control civil unrest in Baghdad and elsewhere, but that the primary mission is still clearing out pockets of Iraqi resistance.
Red Cross operations manager for the Middle East, Balthasar Staehelin, says the hospital situation is dire. "Staff doesn't show up," said Balthasar Staehelin. "Cleaners don't show up. They start to be filthy. There is no clean water. There might not be any electricity. It is indeed a dramatic situation. Given the prevailing degree of insecurity, there isn't any easy answer. I think the ICRC here does not have an answer by just bringing medical supplies, which we do have in Baghdad. Because if the beds are gone, if the medical staff are afraid to show up, if the cooks are not coming to provide food to the patients, if the patients are too scared to remain in the hospitals, then, obviously, it is a situation which I would characterize as extremely, extremely serious."
Mr. Staehelin says the Red Cross is concerned not only for those patients wounded by fighting or bombing raids but for those who had chronic conditions, like cancer, who are unable to receive their treatments.
The Red Cross says looting in the southern Iraqi city of Basra has damaged water pipes it recently installed to bring clean drinking water to the population.