Baghdad’s Sadr City residents under “strain” - ICRC

Residents of Baghdad’s mainly Shia district of Sadr City have been living in stressful conditions since a government security crackdown on Shia militiamen loyal to radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr began on 25 March, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on 23 April.

“Almost a month after the outbreak of armed clashes pitting [US-led] coalition and Iraqi forces against the [Moqtada al-Sadr’s] Mahdi Army, the situation in Sadr City, in eastern Baghdad, is putting further strain on the civilian population," said Patrick Youssef, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Baghdad.

"The clashes that began on 25 March did not let up until they eased briefly on 12 April. However, the lull in the fighting did not give the population enough time to stock up on food and water, or to seek appropriate medical care," Youssef said.

Youssef said the burning of Jamilia wholesale market - one of the largest in Sadr City - had severely affected food and vegetable prices, which have doubled, or trebled in some cases.

Backed by US forces, government forces first clashed with Mahdi Army militiamen in Basra. Fighting then spread to some southern provinces and to parts of Baghdad.

In Baghdad the suburbs of Sadr City and Shula have been the scene of fierce fighting, prompting the authorities to impose tight security measures, including a ban on cars in these areas. Security measures were eased on 5 April, but people are still affected by continuing clashes.

“Overpowering stench”

Awad Khalaf Hadi, a spokesman of the al-Zahra non-governmental organisation in Sadr City, told IRIN that although the gun battles and air strikes had not hindered the delivery of humanitarian and medical materials, they had prevented people from carrying on their normal lives.

"For instance, municipality teams cannot take risks," said Hadi. "And that is why they have left garbage piled up in the streets, sewage channels are clogged, and drinking water is contaminated with sewage, producing an overpowering stench."

“Schools and other government offices are still closed and markets are almost empty - pushing the prices of some items up by over 300 percent. Many of the residents are holed up in their homes,” he said.

The ICRC said on 23 April that it had distributed some three tonnes of medical items to Sadr City General Hospital, Al-Imam Ali General Hospital and Ibn Al-Baldi Paediatric Hospital in Sadr City. The items included equipment for intravenous drips, syringes, dressings and anaesthetics.

Many of Sadr City’s 2.5 million people (nearly half of Baghdad's population) settled there over the past few decades, having arrived from the southern provinces in search of jobs.