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Voices from Iraq

Three 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

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 board.

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 need."

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 Qaradaghi

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 work.

"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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