Escalation of conflict in cities taking its toll on civilians


  • Nation
  • Monday, 07 Apr 2003

By P.K. KATHARASON

AMMAN: For many terrified civilians trapped by the invasion of Iraq, it no longer appears to matter whether it is Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or US President George W. Bush who is to be blamed. 

The bloody assaults and counter-attacks are injuring and killing civilians and children by the thousands as the Anglo-American forces move into the Iraqi capital, opening the battle for Baghdad, home to more than five million people. 

Nearly every family has been affected – with someone killed, injured or separated – and if it is not the fear of what a dictator’s regime may do next that is confronting them, then it is the fear of the invaders' bullets and bombs. 

While many civilians are reportedly fleeing towards the borders of Jordan and Syria, the wounded are pouring into hospitals. 

In the eyes of maimed children wrapped in bandages, the tears have dried up. They stare blankly at the camera in footage televised repeatedly on Arab channels. 

The scarred faces of innocent victims of precision missiles and cluster bombs are covered in dried blood. Patients with amputated legs and arms fill the beds of hospitals with little or no medical help.  

Wounded women and men left to die tell of the misery of civilians trapped in the heavy fighting while relief agency workers are finding it difficult to move freely in combat zones to provide help. 

The heaviest civilian casualties came in the past few days as the pace of sorties on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities went up rapidly, with some reports estimating about 100 injured per hour. 

No correct figure of civilian deaths and wounded has been recorded since the invasion began on March 19 – one report estimates some 10,000 killed or injured. 

According to medical teams of the International Committee of Red Crescent (ICRC), the poorly supplied hospitals are unable to cope with wounded civilians as well as soldiers pouring in from the battlefront. 

“Heavy bombardment and fighting inside the city in recent days is taking its toll of civilian lives,” said ICRC communications head in Amman, Muin Kassis. 

Moreover, the lack of water supply, power cuts and inadequate generators have made it more difficult to carry out surgery. 

The hospitals are said to be stretched to their limits and the local Red Crescent staff face a difficult choice – between staying with their families or going to work. 

Last Tuesday, when an ICRC team reached a maternity hospital at Hilla, about 100km south of Baghdad, they were struck by the pain facing the civilians. 

They saw vehicles bringing in the bodies of children, women and men. 

Inside, there were at least 280 injured people in need of IV fluid sets and blankets, and the team provided whatever medical supplies they could to help the hospital staff cope with the situation. 

At daily international aid agency briefings here, relief workers have expressed growing concern over the current fighting in towns such as Najaf, Kerbala and Nasiriya as neither they nor journalists were able to visit the areas. 

Repeating their warnings, United Nation officials said cities like Baghdad and Basra in the south were on the brink of a human catastrophe, with the lives of more than a million children at risk apart from those already killed or maimed. 

With the United States carrying out 24-hour air strikes to provide cover for its troops entering Baghdad and the Iraqi regime asking civilians to fight back, relief workers fear for the worst.  

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