ICRC prepares for Iraq crisis

14 March 2003
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is already on the frontline in Iraq. Its presence was established during the first Gulf war in 1980-88 and continued through the Kuwait crisis to the present day. One of its tasks is arranging exchanges of prisoners of war taken by both sides in the Iran-Iraq war. It is supervising the treatment of prisoners of war held by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), despite the fact that both parties have ministers in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The Red Cross is also engaged in the effort to find the missing from the war for Kuwait.

The ICRC remains the only international organisation with humanitarian assistance projects and a regular presence throughout Iraq. The International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies continues to provide support for the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS).

Entire towns and villages now enjoy safe water due to ICRC's rehabilitation work. The ICRC says its priorities for 2003 are to carry out extensive assistance activities begun in mid-1999, focusing on urgent needs not covered under the UN oil-for-food programme. These mainly include the rehabilitation and maintenance of health, water and sanitation facilities, and training and capacity building in the health sector.

The ICRC, which is to act as the co-ordinating body for the federation and the Red Crescent Societies of the region, is mobilising to prepare for a refugee crisis. 'We are stepping up our presence in Iraq and especially in neighbouring countries,' said ICRC Iraq spokeswoman Nada Doumani on 10 March. 'We already have bases in Amman, Kuwait and Iran and we are prepositioning stores.'

The ICRC has more than 30 expatriate staff in Iraq who are working with 360 locally-employed people. 'Our intention is to stay in Iraq,' said Doumani. 'We are not pulling out.'

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