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Iraqi Red Crescent Facing Obstacles After Departure of UN, Red Cross - 2003-12-04

The secretary-general of the Iraqi Red Crescent says it is more difficult now than before the war to conduct humanitarian operations throughout Iraq. He says efforts have become more difficult since the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations and other aid agencies left the country.

The head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, Dhahir Al-Zoubai, says, in many ways, the situation now is worse than it was before the U.S.-led war. He says lack of security and irregular access to basic services, such as electricity and safe drinking water, make it difficult to provide people with the assistance they need.

In addition, he says the workload for Red Crescent staff and volunteers is greater since the International Committee of the Red Cross withdrew most of its foreign staff from the country. This followed the bombing of ICRC headquarters in Baghdad in late October.

Mr. Al-Zoubai says the Iraqi Red Crescent can deliver food and other relief supplies to the hundreds of thousands who need it. But, he says, it is not able to assume two of the ICRC's most important activities, the tracing of missing persons and visits to prisoners of war and civilian detainees.

Another big problem, he says, is that hospitals still lack essential medicines and other services.

"And, now, due to this situation, we try now as a national society to approach other national societies in order to coordinate to send children for treatment outside," he said. "We start with Saudi Arabia, with Turkey, with Greece. And, now we approach the other national societies in Europe and the Arab countries in order to send more children outside. So, the situation is very bad until now."

Mr. Al-Zoubai says the children have been hardest hit by years of sanctions. He notes many of the illnesses they now have are a result of years of malnutrition and exposure to diseases which went untreated because of lack of medicine.

He says many Iraqis are traumatized from decades of war and repression. He says the Iraqi Red Crescent with support from the Danish Red Cross hopes to begin a psychological support program in January to help children and adults recover.