The humanitarian situation in Diyala Province, eastern-central Iraq, is deteriorating because of continuing tension between armed factions and the difficulty of accessing internally displaced persons and the needy, said local aid workers.
“We are unable to reach thousands of families because of the serious security situation in the area. Many armed factions have prevented us from delivering humanitarian assistance to groups opposed to them, leaving families without food and other support,” said Nafie Obeidi, vice-president of the Iraq Aid Association (IAA), a local nongovernmental organisation.
“We were advised to leave the delivery of aid to the [Iraqi] military or to warring factions but with the increase in violence we doubt if food will reach local families,” Obeidi added.
According to him, in some parts of the province there are two or three checkpoints controlled by different factions every kilometre. Volunteers tend to turn back rather than confront insurgents or militants.
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“We had three of our volunteers seized by a militia and held for over three days because they were accused of supporting the insurgents. We were lucky because one of the faction’s sheikhs recognised one of our volunteers who used to deliver aid to his relatives last year, and he [the sheikh] persuaded the fighters to release our volunteers,” he said.
Local officials say that in Diyala the challenge is not only to get Sunnis to deny al-Qaeda insurgents refuge, but also to bring about reconciliation between the warring Sunni and Shia factions.
“Warring tribes, Sunni fighters, Shia militants and elected officials who don’t participate in the affairs of the province are making the security situation worse,” said Mahmoud Shahir, a senior official in the Diyala Provincial Council and a member of the reconciliation group.
“The officials are Shias who aren’t able to move around the province to familiarize themselves with the general situation, as they might be killed any time,” he said.
“Reconciliation talks which started last week between US troops and local tribal leaders will fail,” Shahir said. “Diyala was the scene of sectarian violence before the US-led invasion [in 2003] and now the situation is worse, with families fleeing the city after seeing hundreds of innocent civilians killed by different factions.”
|Many armed factions have prevented us from delivering humanitarian assistance to groups opposed to them, leaving families without food and other support.|
Fahed al-Daragi, a political analyst at Mustansiriyah University, Baghdad, said reconciliation meetings should be thought through carefully otherwise they would not change the anarchy in the province.
“To start with they [those participating in the reconciliation talks] should meet outside Diyala for security reasons. Another point is that in an area with mixed sects Shias shouldn’t be allowed to hold power alone,” al-Daragi added.
“Moreover, local people should be given the opportunity of expressing their hopes and desires. At the moment they aren’t involved in the talks. Instead, it is the leaders who are involved, and these leaders are often under the influence of particular parties,” he said.
“People are suffering as a result of the fighting; children don’t go to school, pregnant women are losing their babies because the hospitals aren’t functioning properly, and yet such issues are not discussed during the [reconciliation] meetings,” analyst al-Daragi said.
The IAA’s Obeidi said he had received reports from local people in Diyala that many women had died as a result of poor health care during delivery. Children had also been falling ill with diarrhoea, amid worries about the spread of cholera, according to the health authorities.
“We can say there is humanitarian chaos in Diyala where families are unable to get assistance because we are unable to deliver it. We were informed that the US and Iraqi militaries are distributing food rations locally, but families in hot spots have been without assistance for more than four weeks. They have no food or milk for their new-born babies,” Obeidi said.