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IRAQ: Curfews and clashes cripple Baghdad, Basra

BAGHDAD, 30 March 2008 (IRIN) - Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) appealed to the Iraqi authorities on 30 March to facilitate their distribution of relief materials in Baghdad and Basra, 545km southeast of the capital. Both cities are under an indefinite curfew due to ongoing clashes between government forces and the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia led by Moqtada al-Sadr.

“We call upon the [Iraqi] government to allow local and international aid organisations to move during curfew time and get into conflict areas to do their job,” Basil al-Azawi, head of the Iraqi Commission for Civil Society Enterprises (ICCSE), a coalition of over 1,000 Iraqi NGOs, told IRIN.

“It is a really dangerous situation and must be focused on. The clashes and curfew have highly affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in both Baghdad and Basra. People are still in dire need of food and water and some hospitals need medicines and medical items,” he said.

Al-Azawi added that Iraqi security forces prevented him on 28 March from entering Baghdad’s eastern district of Sadr city, where clashes were taking place, as he was heading a team to determine the needs of residents.

Since 28 March, Baghdad has been under a round-the-clock curfew which was due to expire on 30 March but has now been extended indefinitely.

“The government must find ways to confront militants without violating civilians’ human rights. These military operations have added more to Iraqis’ daily suffering with shortages of drinking water, food and medicines,” Al-Azawi said.

Basra conditions deteriorating

In Basra, where clashes beginning on 25 March triggered violence in the capital, local officials said an escalation of fighting and an ongoing curfew had further deteriorated the living conditions of the some 1.7 million residents there.

“Supermarkets have run out of all tinned food, dried food and bottled water while hospitals, especially those in areas where the clashes are intense - like al-Menaa, al-Shafaa and al-Ashaar - are in dire need of blood, medicines and other medical materials,” Mahdi al-Tamimi, head of the city’s human rights office, told IRIN.

Al-Tamimi said that many of Basra’s residents were daily wage earners, who, without jobs to go to now, would have no means of buying anything and were unlikely to have stocks of supplies.

“We urgently call upon the government and UN organisations to provide drinking water, food and medicines in addition to the ambulances they have already provided to help those who need medical care get to the hospitals,” he added.

Red Crescent action

Attempting to alleviate the suffering of Basra residents, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society has set up an operation room in the relatively peaceful neighbouring Missan Province to handle the distribution of relief materials to Basra.

“So far we have managed to distribute food parcels - each one containing 17 items, including sugar, rice, flour, tomato paste and milk - to some hospitals and we hope there will be a lull later today to distribute other things,” Salih Hmoud, head of the IRCS provincial office in Basra, said.

sm/ar/ed

Theme (s): Conflict, Early Warning, Food Security, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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