Iraq: No life
Without a home
the attack on the Al-Askari mosque in Samarra on 22 February,
involuntary population movements in Iraq have been on the
increase. The Iraqi Red Crescent assists displaced families,
providing them with relief, food and tents. One of its staff
shares his personal impressions of a visit in May to the Nahrawan
camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Baghdad.
know what my mission is and am well prepared, promising myself
that I will accomplish it without further delay. The Iraqi
Red Crescent vehicle takes off at speed, the driver clearly
anxious to get us safely to our destination and back. On the
way, as we chat about this and that, from power cuts to traffic
jams, our driver suddenly interjects bitterly: “This
is no life... Even a mouthful of bread here tastes of blood.”
Neither of us reacts; we are accustomed to such outbursts.
My colleague, a Red Crescent volunteer, asks me point-blank:
“Have you ever been to a camp for displaced people before?”
My answer is no. “You’ll see and judge for yourself,”
is all he says. I am puzzled by his words.
The car comes to a halt, and the driver unloads the crates
of food and other assistance. My colleague and I head for
the nearest tent where a tall woman is standing. “We
will never forget what you have done for us,” she says
in greeting. At that moment, I see her world in a different
light and wonder to myself: how can this woman live day after
day in a tent?
Iraqi Red Crescent staff works in the front line throughout
the whole country.
I am overcome
by almost irrational sensations. The suffering is palpable,
intense, visible not only in the faces around me but, curiously,
also in the objects. As the woman raises her eyes to look
at the sun, I can feel the dryness of her lips. She stumbles,
recovers and, turning away from the light, exclaims angrily:
“What can be more depressing than this setting sun?!”
All of a sudden, I feel dizzy, at a loss for words. Noticing
my unease, my colleague taps me on the shoulder. We go over
to a child, his head deep in a book. The boy stops reading,
stares at me for a moment in silence and then says gently:
“Don’t worry, it will all be alright.” He
is the one comforting me!
In order to provide humanitarian services throughout
the country, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society works closely
with the ICRC, the International Federation and neighbouring
National Societies. The main areas of cooperation between
the ICRC and the Iraqi Red Crescent are:
Supporting conflict victims while strengthening the
operational and logistical capacities of the Iraqi Red
Crescent is the central goal of this partnership. A
project to pre-position food and non-food items for
30,000 families, including displaced people, is under
way and a revolving stock of emergency supplies has
been established in Baghdad and four other regional
The ‘restoring family links’ programme is
a precious lifeline in Iraq. The ICRC and Iraqi Red
Crescent have strengthened their cooperation to ensure
an effective and timely service. The Red Crescent has
collected 5,318 Red Cross messages from civilians and
distributed 5,868. It has also handled 3,522 requests
for certificates of detention from former prisoners
Iraqi Red Crescent dissemination and information programmes
are a crucial element in ensuring that all parties to
the conflict understand the basic principles of Red
Cross Red Crescent action in Iraq.
teenager strolls up and greets us politely. My colleague enquires
about his studies. The youngster mumbles something unintelligible,
then continues more audibly: “I would have liked my
essay to have been on forced displacement. Then I could have
written everything that is in my heart and in my head. It’ll
soon be the school holidays, but I don’t get to see
any of my friends. The sight of these tents scares me. I keep
thinking about my house and it makes me cry. I am sure that
in some way it is suffering too, but I don’t see it.”
I take in the lines of tents and the piles of containers,
blankets, bags of fl our, bottles of oil and cooking utensils.
Even the ground beneath all these odds and ends appears haggard
and confused as if it were asking: “Who are these people?
What are they doing here? What is going on?” The pitiful
clothes strung on thin lines between the tents add a further
air of desolation, while women trudge back and forth to fetch
water from a distant tank.
The crowd around us is growing by the minute. A young man
hurries over saying: “Good will prevail. I mean it when
I say that the Red Crescent is proof of this. We are living
a tragedy that is swallowing us whole and spitting out the
remains.” Clearly, he needs to talk, to share his plight.
He closes his eyes for a moment and then carries on: “Over
there, in the distance, I have a date plantation. The dates
are hanging in clusters and will soon be ready to pick. All
I can see around me is coffins, adding each day to my torment.”
Is this a nightmare? I am about to explode. My colleague
senses it and realizes it is time to leave. We hand out the
items we brought with us and head back in silence. I know
that soon I will be home, whereas the people we have just
seen no longer have a ‘home’.
On the way back, 1,000 questions assail me and I can not
banish from my mind the image of those eyes brimming with
A camp for displaced people set up by the Iraqi Red Crescent.
Naji Mutaab Mohammed
Editor of the Iraqi Red Crescent magazine, Baghdad.
In front of Al-Karrada office, Baghdad, which
provides services to some 5,000 households.
Al-Karrada office, Baghdad
The Al-Karrada office, opened in January 2005, is
one of 85 run by the Baghdad branch of the Iraqi Red
Crescent. Headed by the dynamic Mohammed Kamil Hassan,
the office has seven staff members and 50 volunteers
and covers an area of 5,000 households.
From the outset, the office has been active in providing
relief to people affected by the hostilities. Last winter,
250 destitute families received blankets, stoves, kerosene
heaters, kitchen sets and jerrycans. Tents were made
available for the homeless or for those whose houses
were destroyed during military operations, as were wheelchairs
for disabled people. On the anniversary of the killing
of Imam Hussein, a temporary medical centre was set
up on the road between Baghdad and Kerbala.
Ibn Inaya House, a home for elderly people run by the
Iraqi Red Crescent, is well known and has featured in
local and regional media reports. Of its 20 residents,
19 are disabled women picked out by Iraqi Red Crescent
volunteers. “These people were left on their own
and unable to fend for themselves. We immediately gave
them food and collected donations from people living
in the neighbourhood,” says Hassan. The Iraqi
Red Crescent is also focusing on children’s health,
supporting a programme for malnourished children benefi
ting 150 families. It is also planning to hold a festival
in solidarity with orphaned, disabled and mentally handicapped
As for the increasingly worrying issue of displaced
people, Hassan says that more than 500 families, mainly
from the Dora neighbourhood in Baghdad, have sought
refuge in Al-Karrada. The Iraqi Red Crescent has provided
them with basic relief items and food and set up 20
fully equipped tents for them in residential areas of
Interview by Nameer
Employee of the Baghdad branch of the
Iraqi Red Crescent Society