Iraq: Fallujah security crackdown preventing access for aid workers

FALLUJAH, 19 June 2007 (IRIN) - A month-long security crackdown is preventing aid workers from getting to displaced families in the central Iraqi city of Fallujah and its outskirts, while a curfew imposed by US forces is restricting residents' ability to go out and buy much-needed supplies.

"We are living like prisoners, lacking assistance at all levels. Aid support, which last year was always here, can't be seen any more. We depend solely on ourselves, drinking dirty water to survive, even knowing that our children are getting sick from it," said Muhammad Aydan, 42, a resident of Fallujah, some 70km west of the capital, Baghdad.

"Power supply is less than two hours a day in some areas of Fallujah and sometimes we have to go three days without taking a shower to save water," Aydan added.

Local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said they had been denied entry to Fallujah by the Iraqi and US military as a security crackdown in the area, which started on 21 May, could put their lives at risk. The NGOs have called upon security forces to help in the delivery of aid to families who are in dire need of assistance.

Children getting sick

"We have supplies but it is impossible to reach the families. They are afraid to leave their homes to look for food and children are getting sick with diarrhoea caused by the dirty water they are drinking. We have information that pregnant women are delivering their babies at home as the curfew is preventing them from reaching hospital," Fatah Ahmed, spokesman for the Iraq Aid Association (IAA), said.

"[What is happening in Fallujah] is a crime against the right to live. Such behaviour is seen by locals as a punishment for recent attacks on US troops, but innocent civilians are the only ones who are paying," Ahmed added.

Ahmed Rabia'a, a shopkeeper in the city, said he had been unable to open his shop for more than two weeks as most of the streets were sealed off and the huge number of checkpoints on his way to the shop forced him to wait for long hours in queues.

"Because of the curfew and the long time it takes for me to reach my shop, it would be open less than one hour a day so it's not worth it. I just go there to get some food for my home and my neighbours. Most of the food has gone off because I'm not able to start the generator and public electricity is working less than two hours a day," Rabia'a said.

"Too dangerous"

Lt-Col Azize Abdel-Kader, a Defence Ministry official coordinating security operations in Anbar Province in which Fallujah is located, said the curfew - which runs from 6pm until 8am every day - was necessary to maintain security in the city and prevent insurgents from infiltrating again.

"It is a temporary curfew and we hope it can soon end. We are looking into ways to let aid agencies enter Fallujah but it is too dangerous for the time being," Abdel-Kader said.

Fallujah background

Fallujah is known to be a stronghold for Sunni insurgents and as such has been the scene of many battles between insurgents and the Iraqi and US military. The city was home to about 350,000 people before 2003, but since then about 30 percent of the population has fled, according to local government officials.

Fallujah was devastated in April 2004 when US troops launched a major attack on insurgents in the area. The attack left 70 percent of the city destroyed. The city's fate worsened after a second US-led assault in November 2004.

The war has reportedly damaged 70 percent of Fallujah's buildings, with 20 percent totally destroyed, including 60 of the city's 200 or so mosques. About 10 percent of the city's remaining population have had their homes destroyed and are waiting for government compensation. Fallujah residents say they have not seen any development or reconstruction activity.

The recent security crackdown was in response to a revived insurgency in the area.