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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Thousands flee US military onslaught on Haditha

BAGHDAD, 6 October 2005 (IRIN) - Nearly 1,000 families have fled their homes in Haditha in western Iraq following the launch of a US-led military operation to hunt down in insurgents in the town in the Euphrates river valley, according to residents in the area.

The Iraq Red Crescent Society said it had sent an evaluation mission to the town 225 km west of Baghdad to get a more precise idea of the situation and was preparing to send a convoy of relief items to the area.

The combined military operation by 2,500 US and Iraqi government troops backed by warplanes began in Hadithi on Tuesday and followed on from a similar offensive against Islamic insurgents in villages near al-Qaim on the Syrian border which began on 1 October.

The IRCS said earlier this week that over 900 families had abandoned their homes in the al-Qaim area, which lies further upstream in the Euphrates valley.

The main hospital in al-Qaim said it had treated dozens of civilians who had been injured in crossfire between the insurgents and 1,000 US troops conducting house-to-house searches and had admitted several bodies of people who had been killed.

The military operation in Haditha, code-named “River Gate,” is a much larger affair and is shaping up to be the biggest military push by US-led forces in the Anbar governorate of western Iraq so far this year.

Residents in the district, which is mainly inhabited by Sunni Muslims opposed to the US-backed government in Baghdad, said people had been fleeing from Haditha and the nearby towns of Haqlaniyah and Barwana, following repeated air strikes.

Those with cars headed for the capital Baghdad, while others had sought refuge in abandoned schools and had camped in improvised tents near the roadside.

The offensive in Haditha took the Red Crescent by surprise at a time when most of its resources were deployed trying to help civilians hurt and displaced by the fighting in al-Qaim and an earlier US military operation to gain control of the northern town of Talafar in September.

“It is a collapse and we now don’t know where to start or finish, but the IRCS will work intensively to give support for those innocent people and children who are fleeing their town trying to survive,” IRCS spokeswoman Ferdous al-Abadi said.

People abandoning Haditha said they feared the US-led military operation would lead to massive damage in the town.

“My wife was hurt as we ran out of our house in an exchange of fire between those inhuman US soldiers and the insurgents. Our city will be destroyed like Fallujah and it is the innocent people who will suffer as a result,” moaned Salah Kubaissy, 46, who was seeking shelter in an abandoned school.

US troops went round Hadifa with loudspeakers ordering residents to stay inside their houses as they searched for insurgents building by building.

“They broke into my house and started to shout at me and my wife. She was having a bath, but they just took her naked and pushed her into the kitchen, saying that if she moved she was going to die,” Shaker Hakeem, 39, another local resident, told IRIN.

Medical sources said the US-led forces had arrested two doctors at the main hospital in Haditha. US troops burst in complaining that everyone there was part of the resistance, they said.

“They entered our hospital without the minimum of respect to our patients and arrested many of them. Even two doctors were arrested as they were carrying out a small surgical operation,” said Haki Hadethi, a senior doctor at the hospital.

He urged humanitarian organisations to send medical supplies to Haditha, saying the hospital had run out, but it was the only medical centre with the capacity to deal with situation in the entire district.

US military officials say the offensives in the upper Euphrates valley are aimed at re-establishing government control in the mainly Sunni area ahead of a referendum on Iraq’s controversial new constitution on 15 October.

Many Sunni Muslims oppose the new constitution, fearing they will lose power to the Shia Muslims who dominate southern Iraq and Kurds in the north.

The armed resistance to the government and the US-led occupation force which backs it, draws most of its support from the Sunni community.

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

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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



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