Shia militiamen attack aid convoys in Baghdad suburb

Government officials and residents of Baghdad's mainly Shia district of Sadr City on 30 April accused pro-Moqtada al-Sadr militiamen of attacking aid convoys and closing down schools.

The militiamen have used roadside bombs to target aid convoys which carry food rations and medicines. They have also targeted schools, ambulances and public service vehicles, Tahsin al-Sheikhli, a government spokesman, said.

"The terrorist groups [reference to Shia militiamen of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army] have closed six medical centres, and 86 schools by threatening their employees and families not to send their children to the schools, which they use as bases for their operations," al-Sheikhli said.

"A total of 22 trucks laden with cooking gas cylinders managed to enter [Sadr City] over the past three weeks - out of the 77 sent by the Oil Ministry," he told a press conference in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

The government had managed to secure almost 80 percent of medical and other needs, despite the clashes, and air-strikes by government and US forces, "but not for all areas as there are still areas where military operations are taking place," he said.

On 25 March US-backed government security forces launched a crackdown on Mahdi Army militia in Basra, the southern provinces, and Baghdad, where the suburbs of Sadr City and Shula have been under siege.

Sadr City: medical, education problems

Abbas Owaid, director-general of Fatima al-Zahra hospital, one of four hospitals in Sadr City, said hospitals there were still experiencing a shortage of medicines and equipment.

"The situation is very critical and unstable. There is still a pressing need for bandages, pain killers, syringes and other first aid materials. Blood is available as there are people who donate, but we still need more as there are injuries," Owaid told IRIN.

''We are still facing problems with ambulances, as neither side trusts us and then they attack the ambulances.''

"We are still facing problems with ambulances, as neither side trusts us and then they attack the ambulances. Work in my hospital has gone down 50 percent as the Iraqi army is stationed nearby and that makes it very hard for medical staff and patients to get to the hospital," he said.

Abu Zainab, a clerk at a court in Sadr City, has not been able to go to work or send his three daughters to school, as Mahdi Army militiamen force them to stay home.

"They tell us 'we are in a state of war... and you have to support us by striking' and we have no option but to obey them," said Abu Zainab who did not want his full name revealed for fear of reprisals.

"I have three daughters. The eldest is finishing high school while the two others are in secondary school. I am thinking of sending them to our relatives in a nearby neighbourhood and hope the authorities will allow them to continue their studies in other schools temporarily," he said.

sm/ar/cb