Through its activities and experience in conflict situations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is fully aware of the impact of war on civilians. The Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars and UN sanctions have taken their toll on the Iraqi population. Standards of living continue to worsen and the infrastructure is falling apart. Essential needs are barely covered. Most of the population already depends on humanitarian assistance; the effects of another armed conflict could be disastrous. A recent report from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has alerted the world to the devastating impact of another war on the Iraq's 23 million people - two thirds of whom are already dependent on the UN Oil for Food Programme rations for their survival.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is well placed to assess and address these humanitarian needs. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been working in Iraq since 1980, providing health, orthopaedic, water and sanitation, protection and awareness programs, as well as International Humanitarian Law (IHL) information seminars.
As Roland Huguenan, an ICRC relief worker in the Baghdad writes:
"People in Iraq have very vivid memories of the bombing of power stations and the ensuing disruption of the water supply in 1991. Even though there are now fuel-operated generators at the water treatment stations, there are still serious reasons to feel concern about the fate of the civilian population. My ICRC colleagues in the region have been pre-positioning food and other relief in warehouses in neighbouring countries to be able to respond to a potential emergency in any part of Iraq. We have also assessed the level of medical care here and brought in stocks of standard first aid, surgical and medical kits; if the worst comes to the worst, they will be available to hospitals looking after the war wounded."
The impact of such a war could certainly spill over into countries bordering on Iraq. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates there could be between 500,000 and 600,000 refugees in the event of a war in Iraq. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, Turkey and Jordan share borders with Iraq. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) is also present, as is the International Federation, supporting the IRCS and other Red Crescent National Societies in their relief efforts.
If a war cannot be avoided, a strict respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) can, at least, mitigate human suffering and reduce the number of casualties. IHL, also know as the laws of war, is a set of rules that aims at protecting those who do not or who no longer take part in the conflict: civilians, wounded and sick soldiers and prisoners of war. It restricts the means and methods of warfare in order to spare civilian infrastructure from destruction. It also stipulates the need to preserve a space for humanitarian action. In the event of war, it is crucial that medical rescue efforts are preserved to allow neutral organizations, acting impartially, to come to the aid of the victims of conflict.