Red Cross Warns “Disastrous,” “Immense” Iraqi Humanitarian Crisis “Ever-Worsening”

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The International Committee of the Red Cross is warning that the conflict in Iraq is inflicting immense suffering on the entire population and is steadily getting worse. The Red Cross says “civilians are bearing the brunt of the relentless violence and the extremely poor security conditions that are disrupting the lives and livelihoods of millions.” ICRC spokesperson Nada Doumani joins us from Amman, Jordan. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: An explosion rocked the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad today, killing at least one member of parliament and wounding dozens more. The blast reportedly took place at a cafeteria inside the building at a time when many members of parliament were having lunch. The parliament building located inside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Earlier today, a truck bomb explosion on a bridge in Baghdad killed as many as 10 people and sent several cars plunging into the Tigris River below. The blast partially destroyed the bridge, a major artery linking East and West Baghdad.

The violence comes one day after the International Committee of the Red Cross’s warning in a new “report”:”: that the conflict in Iraq is inflicting immense suffering on the entire population and is steadily getting worse. The Red Cross says, “Civilians are bearing the brunt of the relentless violence and the extremely poor security conditions that are disrupting the lives and livelihoods of millions.” The report found hospitals are overstretched, malnutrition is rising, and power outages are intensifying.

The ICRC still has a presence in Iraq despite the bombing of its Baghdad offices three-and-a-half years ago. It has over 400 Iraqis working for it in the country and has additional 57 international staff based in Iraq and Jordan.

Nada Doumani is a spokesperson for the ICRC. She joins us on the line from Amman, Jordan. She just came out of Iraq last week. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Nada.

NADA DOUMANI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us more about this report? You recognize the level of deaths, the mortality rate in Iraq, but the report then goes further.

NADA DOUMANI: Yes, absolutely. What we wanted to do in issuing this report yesterday was to sensitize the public opinion and also the decision makers on the suffering of the Iraqis. What’s happening today in Iraq is not only political, strategic or military issues that are at stake, but, above all, there is a suffering for the Iraqis in that daily life. Violence today in Iraq affects directly or indirectly civilians in Iraq. Infrastructures cannot cope with the immense needs of the Iraqis, not to speak with the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their home, not to speak, of course, about what’s the most important, which is the lack of protection of civilians, since dozens are killed every day.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the presidential candidates in the United States, Senator McCain of Arizona, just came back from Iraq, and he said that reporters are missing the big story and that the news is getting better. And he made his point by walking in Baghdad, albeit with a hundred soldiers and helicopters overhead. Your response to what he has to say?

NADA DOUMANI: Well, I don’t have a direct response to an official statement. What I can say is what we can see on the ground, what we witness, what we hear, or the people we meet in Iraq, and their testimonies are quite strong. They are also reported in our — they produce in our report. The daily living is difficult.

You mentioned that people are moving around. If somebody is moving around in Baghdad with heavy — heavily guarded, that doesn’t necessarily give the picture or the correct picture for what a normal Iraqi would be enduring. We know that people, even just to go for shopping in the morning, they are scared to send their [children] to school. They’re scared just to go out, go to work. And this is particularly true for the capital, Baghdad.

Now, I can say that the ICRC has necessarily a [inaudible] review of every single province and every single town in Iraq, but technically the situation and the situation in terms of security is far from being stabilized for the Iraqis and is still totally inadequate in terms of protection and, as I said, very inadequate in terms of providing the basic essential services, meaning healthcare, meaning water, electricity. You now have two hours or one hour electricity per day in Baghdad. Even in areas which are relatively secure and stable, such as the northern provinces, which are mainly populated by Kurds, you have three hours electricity per day. You have shortage of fuel in a country which is an oil-producing country. And as I said, people — otherwise how could you explain that people are quitting their homes? I think to find refuge somewhere else or outside the country or even inside the country.

AMY GOODMAN: You describe mothers, when they take their children to school or try to, seeing bodies on the streets on a regular basis.

NADA DOUMANI: Yes. This happens in some neighborhoods, on and off. I wouldn’t say that every morning you go out and you find a body in front of your door, but this happens in some neighborhoods which are particularly violent. We have witnessed also, one has to say, an escalation in violence and sectarian violence and killings, abductions, especially since the Samara bombing last year, but this — we have really — we are really hearing and seeing also appalling incidents taking place in Iraq. Unfortunately, that’s not simply killings. Sometimes it goes even further in more atrocious acts, not to speak also — not to forget that there are still military operations going on, which force people to flee and to find refuge elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: The report, the Red Cross report, also talks about the thousands of bodies in morgues around the country, because families are afraid to go there to get them or don’t even know that they’re there.

NADA DOUMANI: Yes, absolutely. That’s also a problem of protection. People sometimes wouldn’t dare to go to the Medical Legal Institute, where the morgue, the central morgue in Baghdad, because they’re afraid of acts of revenge, because they would be identified. They’re even afraid in some cases to go to hospitals to be treated, because in some hospitals protection is not ensured, not for the patient and not for the medical staff. And according even to official Iraqi sources, more than half the doctors registered have fled the country, either because they have been directly threatened or out of fear.

AMY GOODMAN: You have in the report something like, before the invasion, 208 surgeons — was it in Baghdad or Al Kindi Hospital? — now something like 40, a fifth the number.

NADA DOUMANI: Can you say again the question? Sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: In the report, you talk specifically about the number of doctors, and you talk about there being something like 208 surgeons before the invasion, now something like 40 have remained.

NADA DOUMANI: Well, that’s specific about one specific hospital in Baghdad. It’s true.

AMY GOODMAN: The Al Kindi Hospital.

NADA DOUMANI: This hospital often receives a high number of casualties, especially in case of, you know, car bombings and have a large number of injured people. And we have permanent contact with this hospital in order to delegate with them some surgical items, because they are obviously in shortage in some cases. And this is one of the doctor’s statements, yes, absolutely. But all over the country, I would say, more than half, as I said, have left. And you can imagine, if you have less than a half of the doctors and the surgeons present, how can you cope when you suddenly have 160 people injured coming to the hospital?

AMY GOODMAN: Nada Doumani, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, what about infrastructure like sewage?

NADA DOUMANI: This is an area where the ICRC has been working in since the mid-'90s or the late ’90s during the sanction period, where also very little maintenance could be done in the infrastructure, because of the sanctions on the country. And we have to say that we're still continuing that. And we have also — according to our engineers working on the site, unfortunately, the quality, the quantity of what’s available is not adequate, and so is the sewage system. It requires more special maintenance, more efforts, and, once again, security here is impeding repair work in many cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Nada Doumani, we have been speaking to you for some four years, since March of 2003. You have been going in and out of Iraq. We’re speaking to you now in Amman. You just came from Iraq. But how does the International Red Cross actually function in Iraq? You were bombed three-and-a-half years ago.

NADA DOUMANI: Absolutely. We were bombed three-and-a-half years ago. We also had individual security incident, which forced us to change a little bit our modus operandi, our working procedures in Iraq. But we, at the organization, at the headquarters level, at the seat level, we are absolutely committed to continue working in Iraq because of the immense needs of the Iraqis. And so, we still are providing assistance. We’re still visiting detainees under the U.S. and the MNFI authority, or even under Kurdish authority. And we do rely, of course, on our Iraqi colleagues and also on the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, which is present all over the country and which helps us provide also assistance in some provinces to which we can’t get by ourselves. We insist also on the fact that we want to stay there. We have some ex-patriot permanent presence in Iraq, and a lot of us also go in and out in order to keep — we believe we have to be on the field to be able really not only to be able to see how the situation is actually in Iraq, what are the real needs and how we can best help.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to be done right now?

NADA DOUMANI: Well, definitely better protection for the civilians, ensuring security, stopping this violence, which is often indiscriminate. That’s why, yesterday, once again, we called up on all those who can have an influence on the ground, be it politically, militarily, morally, just whatever, to use that influence. More should be done in that respect, in order to ensure protection for the population for the civilians and for the civilian infrastructure.

AMY GOODMAN: Nada Doumani, thank you for joining us from Amman, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross. She just came out of Baghdad. The report of the International Red Cross is called “Civilians Without Protection: The Ever-Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq.”

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