Global Policy Forum

"Humanitarian Catastrophe" Looms in Diwaniyah

Integrated Regional Information Networks
April 11, 2007

A week of fierce clashes between US-Iraqi forces and Shia militiamen in Diwaniyah has brought the city to the brink of a "real humanitarian catastrophe", health workers said on Wednesday. Aid agencies and doctors are demanding they be given access to a desperate population who have become prisoners in their own homes.

"We can't send our ambulances in to collect dead bodies or the wounded from the streets. And we are running out of essential medical items such as pain killer tablets, IV fluids, anaesthesia, stitches, antiseptics and things like bandages and cotton," said Dr Kamal Hussein of the city's general hospital. "In addition, we don't have enough fuel to operate our generators so we only have four to six hours of electricity a day," Hussein added. "The government and US forces must allow medicines into this city otherwise there will be a real humanitarian catastrophe."

The predominantly Shia city of Diwaniyah, about 130km south of the capital, Baghdad, has a population of between 400,000 and half a million. The focus of the US offensive in Diwaniyah is The Mahdi Army, run by radical Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who had ordered Baghdad militiamen to lay down their weapons during a month-long US-led security crackdown in the capital. Many of the Diwaniyah fighters are thought to have come from Baghdad and are using the US preoccupation with the capital to cement their hold on parts of the southern city.

Police officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to talk to the media, said 41 people had been killed and 61 wounded - including civilians and members of the Mahdi Army - since clashes began on 5 April. Officials of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), the only NGO that works throughout the country, have said that the humanitarian situation in Diwaniya is critical as the movement of their teams is severely limited.

"Our teams can't leave their homes and venture out as they'll be easily targeted," said Mazin Abdullah Salom, a spokesman for the Red Crescent in Baghdad. "Now, we are trying to send teams from outside the city and we have asked the US and Iraqi forces to help our teams get inside the city and assist the people, but till now we haven't received a reply," Salom added. He added that the Red Crescent's only storage facility in the city was stormed by unidentified gunmen three days ago, but he had no accurate reports about any damage or loss.

As the fighting continues, the house-bound residents of Diwaniya are becoming increasingly desperate. "This is our seventh day inside our house and the kids are starving," Jalal Jumaa Hadi, a 33-year-old taxi driver and father of two boys, told IRIN in a phone interview from his house "I can't go out to work and we can't venture out to buy anything for the kids. We're just baking bread and feeding our kids."

More Information on Iraq
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