UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: More civilians flee al-Qaim as US offensive continues

BAGHDAD, 4 October 2005 (IRIN) - More than 900 Iraqi families have fled from the al-Qaim district near the Syrian border to escape a US military offensive against Islamic militants and the exodus is continuing, humanitarian workers in al-Qaim said.

Most of those running to escape the five day-old offensive by 1,000 US troops backed by warplanes have remained within Iraq.

However, several hundred have crossed the nearby border to seek sanctuary in Syria, according to residents in the eastern Syrian town of Deir-ez-Zour contacted by IRIN.

Aid workers with local NGOs operating in al-Qaim said on Monday night that large numbers of people were continuing to leave the town and nearby villages to escape the fighting.

According to medical workers, it has already caused dozens of civilian casualties.

The Iraq Red Crescent Society (IRCS) said it would dispatch a relief convoy to western Iraq on Wednesday with tents, blankets, food parcels, medical supplies and other essential items for those displaced from their homes and injured in the battle.

However, IRCS spokeswoman Ferdous al-Abadi said the Red Crescent had not received authorisation for the convoy to go to al-Qaim itself. The trucks would be forced to stop and unload their supplies at towns such as A’ana and Rawa about 50 km to the east of the zone of conflict, she added.

Although thousands of civilians have chosen to flee al-Qaim, which lies 12 km from the Syrian border, many others in the town and nearby villages affected by the fighting are too scared to leave their homes.

“We can see raids inside the village and every house they (the US troops) enter, they leave in a state of total destruction,” said Abdul Kareem Muhammady, who was holed up with his family in the village of Romanna.

“We cannot leave our house and we are here without food and water, because if we tried to venture out we could be shot dead by either US troops or insurgents,” he told IRIN by telephone.

Residents contacted by telephone said the fighting had been most intense around the villages of Romanna and Karabila. They said US troops were conducting house-to-house searches to hunt down insurgents and dozens of houses and shops had been damaged or destroyed.

The residents said they could see black hooded gunmen carrying machine guns and grenades in the streets of these two villages and many civilians had been caught in the crossfire between the two sides, they added.

Samy Yonis, who had escaped on foot from the village of Romanna with two children said; “We left Romanna in very difficult conditions. You could see bodies in the street surrounded by dogs.”

“They might have been insurgents, but they were human beings and if we had not been very careful, we might have joined them,” he added.

Rami Massaibi, a senior doctor at the main hospital in al-Qaim, said; “We have admitted dozens of injured people from Romana and Karabila since the fighting started last Saturday and among there were several children, including three from the same family.”

The doctor said the insurgents did not care who they killed or injured when they were fighting the Americans. He expressed fears that several hundred civilians would end up getting hurt in the conflict.

Massaibi appealed to humanitarian organisations to send emergency medical supplies to his hospital, including equipment for surgery.

A US military spokesman in Iraq said on Tuesday that “Operation Iron Fist” in and around al-Qaim was continuing as the US-led coalition seeks to prevent the insurgents from disrupting a referendum on Iraq’s controversial new constitution due on 15 October.

The spokesman told IRIN that he did not up-to-date casualty figures from the fighting on the Syrian border, However, the Associated Press quoted US military officials as saying t at least 57 insurgents had been killed so far, for the loss of one American life.

Al-Ferdous of the Iraqi Red Crescent urged the Iraqi government to prevent the situation in al-Qaim degenerating into a humanitarian crisis like the one triggered last month by a similar US attempt to flush insurgents out of the northern city of Talafar. That forced about 5,000 families to flee their homes.

“We will try to deliver aid to places which are close to the fighting area and will offer support to the local clinics and hospitals to ensure that their needs are covered,” she said.

Abbas Didar, a senior official at the Iraqi Defence Ministry, told IRIN that he had not received reports of any civilian casualties in the fighting at al-Qaim. He said people were free to leave the area if they wanted, but they would not be hurt if they simply stayed at home.

“We are checking the houses, searching for insurgents, but only suspect houses are being raided. We are sure that residents will be safe so long as they do not harbour terrorists in their homes,” he said.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Human Rights, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs




This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list