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
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
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.
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.
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.