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Falluja a 'Big Disaster,' Aid Needed - Red Crescent

Reuters | Nov 12 2004

Aid agencies called on U.S. forces and the Iraqi government to allow them to deliver food, medicine and water to Falluja on Friday and said four days of intense fighting had turned the city into a "big disaster."

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society, which receives support from foreign agencies including the Red Cross and UNICEF, said it had asked U.S. forces and Iraq's interim government to let them deliver relief goods to Falluja and establish medics there.

But it said it had received no reply.

"We call on the Iraqi government and U.S. forces to allow us to do our humanitarian duty to the innocent people," said Firdoos al-Ubadi, Red Crescent spokeswoman.

"This is their responsibility," she said, adding that judging by reports received from refugees and pictures broadcast on television, Falluja was a "big disaster."

A U.S. military spokesman said the Red Crescent had permission to help refugees in towns around Falluja, but could not say if it had been granted access to the city itself.

The Red Crescent has seven teams of doctors and relief workers, backed by trucks of food and other aid ready to go into each of Falluja's districts when the word is given.

About 10,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines, backed by heavy artillery and war planes, surged into Falluja from several directions on Monday night, launching an offensive on rebels.

The U.S. military estimates that 600 militants have been killed in four days of street fighting.

Scores of buildings in Falluja have been completely destroyed, with TV footage showing some districts all but leveled. There has been no water and electricity for days and food shops have been closed, residents say. The stench of dead bodies is hanging over some areas of the city, the say.

U.S. commanders say civilian casualties have been low, but residents dispute that, describing incidents in which non-combatants, including women and children, have been killed by shrapnel or hit by bombs.
In one case earlier this week, a 9-year-old boy died after being hit in the stomach by shrapnel. Unable to reach a hospital, he died hours later of blood loss.

"Anyone who gets injured is likely to die because there's no medicine and they can't get to doctors," said Abdul-Hameed Salim, a volunteer with the Iraqi Red Crescent. "There are snipers everywhere. Go outside and you're going to get shot."

Rasoul Ibrahim, a father of three, fled Falluja on Thursday morning and arrived with his wife and children in Habbaniya, about 20 km (12 miles) to the west, on Thursday night.

He said families left in the city were in desperate need.

"There's no water. People are drinking dirty water. Children are dying. People are eating flour because there's no proper food," he told aid workers in Habbaniya, which has become a refugee camp, with around 2,000 families sheltering there.

Ubadi said many families taking refuge in Habbaniya and other villages nearby were suffering from diarrhea and malnutrition and needed medicine as well as basic necessities such as lentils, sugar, bread, tea and candles.

An aid convoy reached Habbinya on Thursday to help hundreds of families living in schools, shops and tents on the streets, but the biggest concern is now Falluja, where the Red Crescent has identified at least 150 families in desperate need.

She said a convoy of aid, including drinking water, food and medicine, was ready to leave for Falluja from Amiriya, a town to the south, but needed permission from U.S. forces.

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