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Iraq’s forgotten victims

As fighting in this war-ravaged country has decreased in recent years, international media and political attention has also flagged. But even with the United States promising to withdraw troops and end combat operations by the end of August, the level of violence is still alarming and the future is highly uncertain.

People continue to suffer many hardships — the loss of loved ones, economic despair, constant fear of violence, lack of medicine, unavailability of health care and safe drinking water, chronic disease and malnutrition, unexploded ordnance and natural disasters.

Many of these crises are largely lost to the outside world — buried under headlines of suicide bombings, armed violence and politics. Few global news outlets, for example, noticed when, in April, several parts of the country suffered flash floods that affected roughly 9,000 people and displaced 2,400. How many news watchers around the world have heard stories of Iraqi women, widowed by the war, struggling to support their families in the face of severe economic depression?

The Movement’s response to this complex crisis reveals the connections between security, physical and mental health, and economic recovery. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society, the ICRC, the IFRC and participating National Societies are working on numerous fronts to help families trace missing loved ones, help communities recover from natural disaster, provide community-based first aid, promote good hygiene and raise awareness about unexploded munitions.

All photos and text by ©Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images for the ICRC

Life in the urban shadows
Under the cover of tents, which shade them from the blazing Baghdad sun, children in the Zafraniya neighbourhood laugh and swing in their makeshift playground. Zafraniya has become a refuge for many internally displaced Iraqis fleeing drought, lack of employment or violence in other parts of the country. More than 2.8 million people are internally displaced in Iraq, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations. Often, as in Zafraniya, the displaced settle on patches of public land or blend into the urban landscape.

“People are living in very miserable conditions,” says Dr. Yassin Abass, president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. “They have left the rural areas and have come to Baghdad or to other cities. But there is a severe lack of housing and services. Often, they are living without electricity, clean water or sewage systems.”

One of several agencies working to meet the housing gap, the Iraqi Red Crescent has begun a shelter programme that has so far resulted in the construction of 200 units in the city of Karbala, south of Bagdhad. The Iraqi Red Crescent is also trying to raise awareness about the plight of  roughly 2.2 million Iraqi refugees living in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Egypt.


Life in the urban shadows
People suffering from mental illness also tend to fall through the cracks. Al Rashad is the largest hospital in Iraq for the mentally ill. Despite suffering major damage during the conflict, the facility remained open throughout years of war. Patients take part in activities like music, painting, fitness or watching soap operas on the television.


Something beautiful “they can keep”
Since starting a hair salon in her Baghdad home, business for 27-year-old Suhad Abbas Mohamed has boomed. There’s no need to advertise, she says, as word spreads quickly among women, who have very few places to socialize.

“I tried to make a place where women could just be themselves,” she says, running a brush through her niece’s hair. Abbas Mohamed started the business with a grant from the ICRC after the death of her husband in sectarian violence. “It’s become a small community, right in my house.”


Unknown but not forgotten
Every day, Ahmed Abdul Redha, 33, a worker at the Al-Zubair Martyrs Centre in Basra, strolls through rows of graves for unidentified people killed during the Iran– Iraq war and the two Gulf wars. He cleans the gravesites of weeds and often says a quick prayer.

After the Iraqi army was dismantled in 2003, the task of identifying the missing became even more difficult. The ICRC provides training and other support for the Al-Zubair Centre and other agencies in order to help local officials identify mortal remains and provide families with news of loved ones. As part of that effort, the Al-Zubair centre installed an improved archiving system to better manage the files of Iraqis killed in conflict and received training on forensic investigation. 

A precious resource
On a recent Friday afternoon, children and young men from  Baghdad’s sprawling slum, Sector 52 in Sadr City, gather around a water truck provided by the ICRC. They fill jerrycans, buckets, water bottles — whatever they can find — then make many trips back and forth to their homes, carefully side-stepping pools of dirty, stagnant water.

Clean water is a life-and-death issue in Iraq. Waste is often discharged directly into rivers and much of the water supply is contaminated. A United Nations report claims that water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Iraq’s primary sources of water, have fallen by more than two-thirds.

A precious resource
In Daquq subdistrict, near Kirkuk, Kurdish workers are employed by the ICRC to renovate a canal with picks and shovels. Villages in the region are becoming more self-sufficient, with access to reservoirs that bring water to entire communities and by purifying their own water with the help of filtration projects.

Untold casualties
In the context of the larger conflict, the story of each life or limb lost due to a landmine or the unexpected detonation of leftover munitions, goes largely unreported to the outside world. But for the people who have lost a leg, an arm or a loved one, the damage is life-changing. The Movement response provides rehabilitation, such as prosthetics and physical therapy at the ICRC-supported clinic and, at the same time, works to prevent future injuries.

Untold casualties
In Iraq, an ICRC team clears areas of unexploded ordnance. Meanwhile, Iraqi Red Crescent volunteers raise awareness about the threat of unexploded munitions in local communities.


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