Voices from Iraq
ICRC staff members speak about their work, particularly during
the ongoing hostilities.
Siran Ibrahim Al-Abbadi ©ICRC
Siran Ibrahim Al-Abbadi
Siran has worked with the tracing section
at the ICRC delegation in Baghdad since 1990. She witnessed
first-hand the long series of tragedies that befell the Iraqis
during that period. And she has been in a good position —
if you can call it that — to see their sufferings and
also, fortunately, some grounds for hope and optimism.
Siran knew the Red Cross before she started working for it.
Many members of her family went missing in the war between
Iraq and Iran in the 1980s. To find out what happened to them,
she visited the Red Cross office repeatedly. In addition her
family frequently received Red Cross messages from relatives
who were prisoners in Iran.
Siran remembers that when she first went to work for the
ICRC, its efforts focused on repatriation of Iranian and Iraqi
prisoners of war. She says with a broad smile:
"I love my job. What I like is the constant contact
with people. I like to sense their problems, to get close
to them and to help them as much as I can. However, the work
entails a great deal of frustration as it is impossible to
meet the expectations of more than half the visitors. Their
problems are difficult. Their relatives are prisoners and
missing people. At least we manage to respond to many of the
victims' expectations. That's better than nothing."
On the recent war, Siran makes the following comments: "What
happened was not expected and what was expected did not happen.
We were afraid that thousands of people would be displaced
inside Iraq and thousands would seek refuge in neighbouring
countries. But luckily, that did not happen. On the other
hand, we did not expect thousands of people would come to
our offices. The tragedies of Iraqis are many. Immediately
after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, 1,000 people started
to visit us every day. We did our best to handle everyone's
file until 27 October 2003 when a powerful explosion rocked
the Red Cross delegation in Baghdad. Then we closed our offices
temporarily to the public. It was not only out of fear for
our lives but also to protect the visitors themselves."
About her work in the current circumstances that have forced
the ICRC to scale down its activities and take measures to
protect its employees, Siran adds: "In Iraq, we are exposed
to danger almost everywhere, as the security situation has
deteriorated. The expatriates put their lives in danger in
order to provide humanitarian assistance. I am proud of working
for an impartial organization that has transparent objectives
and aspires to nothing more than to bring assistance to others.
I hope that we can expand our operations again, because there
is an urgent need for humanitarian aid, especially for missing
people and detainees. Iraqis are lost today; they do not know
to whom they can turn to ask for help.
Adel Abdul-Karim ©ICRC
Adel Abdul-Karim Al-Attar is a mechanical
engineer and lawyer. He has worked in the water and sanitation
section at the ICRC sub-delegation in Basra since 1999. Before
joining the ICRC, he was a private contractor and before that,
he was head of the engineering department of the Basra water
When asked what made him join the ICRC, Adel replied: "By
joining the ICRC, I achieved many aspirations and dreams.
Firstly, I secured financial stability for my family. Working
in the private sector was tough under the difficult circumstances
in Iraq during the 1990s. Secondly, working with an international
organization like the Red Cross was an opportunity for me
to carry out highly professional projects without making concessions.
In addition, the projects undertaken by the International
Red Cross really serve the people most affected and most in
Adel remembers clearly the days of the recent war. To provide
the population with water, he and his colleagues put their
lives in danger. "On the first day of war, and after
Basra International Airport was taken by the coalition forces,
the main water station, which serves 70,000 people, was cut
off given its proximity to the airport. I remember it took
a contractor, an engineer, both Iraqis, and myself, as well
as four ICRC expatriate delegates 20 hours to travel the 23
kilometres to the station. Tense fighting, total darkness
and difficult coordination slowed the trip. It then took us
one hour working non-stop to carry out the repair.
"During the war, power was cut for three days. We brought
in batteries to run the Basra power plant. We also connected
generators to Al-Najibiya power plant. We distributed nearly
24,000 litres of water a day, in cooperation with a branch
of the local water board. Our efforts were focused on supplying
hospitals. Even now, four hospitals are being supplied, including
the Basra centre for artificial dialysis."
How does Adel see the cutbacks in some Red Cross activities
recently, following the 27 October attack on its delegation?
"For me, this scaling back is painful," he says.
"I felt the great structure put in place by the Red Cross
being shaken. Fortunately, the Red Cross did not close the
door completely. We can still take action rapidly to prevent
a health crisis or catastrophe."
Hushiar Qaradaghi ©ICRC
Hushiar has worked continuously in the ICRC
office in Sulaymanieh since 1991. He well remembers the day
he joined the organization there. At that time, like nearly1
million Kurds, he was displaced from his village to the Iranian
border. When an ICRC delegate, who used to work in the Penjwin
area near that border, asked him what he knew about the International
Red Cross, Hushiar answered "only that its headquarters
are in Switzerland...". It seems that his lack of knowledge
and his liveliness convinced the delegate. Hushiar says he
believes in the ICRC's humanitarian principles and loves his
"The first year of my mission with the Red Cross was
crucial; it had the greatest impact on my professional training
and personal life. During that period, we were providing assistance
for thousands of displaced people in north-east Iraq, precisely
in Penjwin and Nizara areas where we established a camp made
of small mud huts.
"The conditions of work were difficult, particularly
because of the cold winter and large amounts of snow in 1992.
However, the camp became known as Penjwin paradise... In spite
of the difficulties and individual tragedies, the camp really
was like paradise, owing to the high spirits that prevailed
as well as the harmony and the solidarity among us all, not
to mention the beautiful mountainous landscape."
Today, Hushiar still carries out assistance and dissemination
activities, including the promotion of the principles and
international humanitarian law.
Hushiar says with pride that the degree of awareness of the
Movement among the population has increased remarkably in
recent years, in spite of the number of foreign international
organizations active in the region and the confusion between
the International Red Cross and the United Nations. Hushiar
observes that the ICRC dealt with the press with great reserve
in the past. "This was a mistake, but fortunately we
changed our approach. Now we tend to have strong relations
with the local press, TV and radio."
Compiled by Nada Doumani
Nada Doumani is ICRC press officer in Iraq.
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