The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is not exactly a partisan organisation. For example, the ICRC took a long time to make public its views on Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo. So when the ICRC says that the war in Iraq is inflicting immense suffering on the entire population, it is choosing its word carefully. In a report published today, the ICRC says bluntly: "The plight of Iraqi civilians is a daily reminder of the fact that there has long been a failure to respect their lives and dignity." But what was true under Saddam Hussein’s regime is a thousand times worse as a result of the 2003 US-UK invasion and occupation. Where there was a water supply, people in many parts of Iraq do not know where the next drop is coming from. Where there were hospitals, there is now an acute shortage of medical staff as well as supplies. This is the ICRC’s assessment in its report Civilians without protection – the ever-worsening crisis in Iraq:
"Shootings, bombings, abductions, murders, military operations and other forms of violence are forcing thousands of people to flee their homes and seek safety elsewhere in Iraq or in neighbouring countries. The hundreds of thousands of displaced people scattered across Iraq find it particularly difficult to cope with the ongoing crisis, as do the families who generously agree to host them. Health-care facilities are stretched to the limit as they struggle to cope with mass casualties day-in, day-out. Many sick and injured people do not go to hospital because it’s too dangerous, and the patients and medical staff in those facilities are frequently threatened or targeted. Food shortages have been reported in several areas. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, malnutrition has increased over the past year. The vastly inadequate water, sewage and electricity infrastructure is presenting a risk to public health. Unemployment and poverty levels are rising and many families continue to rely on government food distributions to cover their immediate needs." The report adds that much of Iraq’s infrastructure is in a poor state of repair, power shortages are growing worse throughout the country, including northern areas because despite Iraq’s oil wealth, fuel shortages affect generating plants. As a result, water treatment plants, primary health-care centres and hospitals rely mainly on back-up generators, which often break down or fall victim to the chronic fuel shortages.
Only the present regimes in Washington and London will dispute the words of the ICRC’s director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl, when he says: "The suffering that Iraqi men, women and children are enduring today is unbearable and unacceptable. Their lives and dignity are continuously under threat." The fact is that the conditions in Iraq today as reported by the ICRC are entirely the responsibility of the American and British governments, all those in Congress and Parliament who voted for the 2003 invasion or sat on their hands, as well as the military and intelligence agencies that prepared the ground. The occupation broke the ties that held Iraq together and in their place has come sectarian divide and near civil war. Bush and Blair are fond of talking about crimes against humanity committed by anyone except themselves. Yet their imperial brutality has all but destroyed a country that is home to one of the world’s ancient civilisations. Their Iraq policy lies in ruins, overwhelmed by the blood of the Iraqi people. One day, hopefully in the not too distant future, the devastating ICRC report will be used in evidence against the perpetrators.
Paul Feldman, communcations editor