ICRC calls on coalition to restore order in Iraq

Hospitals in Baghdad have been closed because of looting Keystone

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called on United States-led coalition forces to protect key medical, water and electrical facilities in Baghdad from looting and destruction.

This content was published on April 11, 2003 - 22:25

The humanitarian organisation warned on Friday that the city's infrastructure was collapsing, as the result of widespread chaos and lawlessness.

During a press conference at the ICRC's headquarters in Geneva, the Swiss president of the organisation, Jakob Kellenberger, said it was unlikely that any hospitals were still functioning in Baghdad.

"The ICRC is profoundly alarmed by the chaos currently prevailing in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq," he said. "Hospitals in Baghdad are closed because of combat damage, looting or fear of looting."

He added that the coalition forces had a duty to restore order and protect civilians under the Geneva Conventions, which outline rules of conduct during times of war.

Medical crisis

According to reports from ICRC workers on the ground, hardly any medical or support staff are still reporting for work in Baghdad.

The head of the organisation's Middle East operations, Balthasar Staehelin, described a situation of bedlam and chaos in the Iraqi capital, where aid workers fear increasing summer heat and deteriorating water and electrical supplies are raising the risk of epidemic disease.

"We have an extremely serious situation in Baghdad," he told swissinfo. "Patients are fleeing the hospitals, and are left without care, while medical staff are not reporting for work."

"People with chronic diseases do not have access to treatment, ambulances are not functioning, there is a problem of hygiene and bodies are left unattended," he added.

Staehelin said that the organisation had asked American military officials to protect the main hospitals and provide "rapid security" at water plants to prevent the situation from worsening.

According to the ICRC, the coalition responded positively to their appeal, but the organisation said "much more needed to be done".

Prisoners of War

The organisation also said that the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime was making it difficult to determine who was in charge of seven American prisoners of war (PoWs), who were captured almost three weeks ago.

Kellenberger said the ICRC had not yet been given access to US PoWs, despite repeated requests, and that workers in Iraq were continuing to try to gain access.

But with no government power structure left in Baghdad, the ICRC said it was unable to determine when or how it might be able to negotiate access to the soldiers.

"At the moment we don't know exactly who is holding them," said spokesman, Florian Westphal. "The people we were talking to before can no longer be found... we don't know where they are."

Under the Geneva Conventions, the neutral agency has the right to visit all PoWs to check on their well being and to carry messages from them to their families.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

The International Committee of the Red Cross has called on the coalition forces to restore law and order in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, as well as other cities in the country.

Lawlessness and looting have been reported across the country.

The ICRC doubts any hospitals are working in Baghdad, where medical staff have failed to report for work and patients are reportedly going without treatment.

The organisation also said that the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime made it difficult to determine who was in charge of American and British prisoners of war still unaccounted for in the country.

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