Aid NGOs in Iraq Seek Halt to Attacks on Civilians

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - International humanitarian aid groups in Baghdad say there is a lack of food, clean water and medicines as well as "severe impediments to their provision," and they are calling for an immediate end to all hostilities in the war-torn country.

The Emergency Response Working Group of the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI) Tuesday denounced "military operations conducted against civilians and the attempts to prevent protection and relief of injured people."

NCCI Executive Coordinator Philippe Schneider said that in particular the Emergency Response Working Group "is appalled" at the use of health facilities as bases for military operations.

Coalition forces have occupied the main teaching hospital of Najaf and the general hospital of Fallujah where patients were expelled and the hospital closed, Schneider said.


Children in Baghdad caught in the crossfire. (Photos by Philippe Schneider courtesy Première Urgence)
While the NGOs are blaming coalition forces, the U.S. Central Command says the coalition "will continue to help humanitarian and medical aid get to the city of Fallujah, despite these attempts by the enemy."

Marines assisted ambulances from Baghdad into Fallujah April 12 to treat the wounded in the city, and coordinated further medical supplies and assistance for the city general hospital, the Central Command said.

On Monday, a convoy carrying food, water and blood was delayed and rerouted when coalition forces escorting the convoy discovered improvised explosive devices along its route.

A second humanitarian convoy was hit by improvised explosive devices and small arms fire before it reached the city. "Coalition forces returned fire and called in a helicopter gunship to destroy the enemy. The convoy safely reached the city," the Central Command said.

Another humanitarian convoy in Fallujah was attacked with mortar rounds on April 9.


Baghdad mother protects her children.
Due to the recent upsurge in fighting, over the past three days the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has provided 3,500 blankets, 1,200 mattresses, five emergency health kits, 500 stoves and 500 plastic sheets for people fleeing Fallujah, west of Baghdad, to the capital, spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

The supplies are being delivered by NGOs such as Intersos, Première Urgence and Islamic Relief, to the most needy displaced people and institutions, especially hospitals. Première Urgence will be conducting a mission to Najaf where health conditions are reported to be poor, Redmond said.

The NGOs view the current attempts to establish a cease fire in Fallujah as a positive step, and encourage the energetic pursuit of an end to the hostilities and resolution of the conflict through peaceful means.

A total of 18 international NGOs based in Baghdad joined together one year ago to coordinate their assistance efforts. They have established sectoral working groups to handle health, education, water and sanitation, food and non-food items, engineering and rehabilitation, and logistics and transport.

The NGOs call upon all parties to refrain from the disproportionate use of force and to protect civilian populations as required by international laws governing armed conflict.

Schneider said, "The NGOs continuing to provide much needed assistance to the victims of this conflict throughout Iraq call upon the warring parties to make every effort in order to facilitate their access to the victims."