Iraq: Latest news from ICRC staff in the field, 24 Mar 2003

Field reports from Baghdad, Basra and northern Iraq (Erbil)
In general:

  • The ICRC has established contacts with a view to gaining access to prisoners of war (POWs).

  • There has been a lot of interest in the issue of POWs being shown on Iraqi television: it should be noted that Iraqi POWs had already been shown on various TV channels on 22 March.

  • The ICRC draws attention to the relevant passage of Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention: "...prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity."

  • It is important to point out that: a) the dignity of POWs should be protected and b) account should be taken of the impact these images could have on their families.

  • Other important issues concerning POWs - especially their security and access to medical care - also have to be considered.

  • The ICRC's current priority is that POWs be protected and kept in a safe place.


  • The ICRC can move around, but only to a restricted extent because of daytime bombing. An ICRC team is checking on the situation in hospitals in Baghdad.

  • The ICRC has no current figures on casualties.

(From yesterday, 23 March):

  • Shops and businesses were largely closed; traffic was sparse, some people were trying to go out despite the fear of air raids. Despite intermittent bombardments, the ICRC managed to move around the city to carry out activities.

  • The ICRC was continuing to equip health centres with bladder tanks, back-up generators and other equipment to enable them to cope with a possible breakdown in the water or power supply.

  • Hospitals were having to deal with many cases of people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma or cardio-vascular problems. Such people are often in a difficult situation, suffering from the stress of the recent days in addition to a shortage of special foods they would usually consume and a lack of common drugs that would normally be available. On 22 March, one hospital alone, Al-Kindi, received 100 patients suffering from common complaints of this type.

  • The ICRC has taken measures to increase water supply to parts of Baghdad that are not or only partially connected to the water network. For example, on 23 March 190 cubic metres of drinking water were supplied to 31 water distribution stations installed by the ICRC in the northern Rusafa bank area.)


  • Situation described as tense and difficult.

  • The ICRC has no current figures on casualties.

  • The total electricity blackout caused by the destruction of high-voltage cables in the hostilities continues.

  • Following a temporary total breakdown, 40% of the population now have access to water thanks to emergency measures taken on 22 March by the ICRC and local engineers. However, this water is not of sufficiently good quality to be used in the long term.

  • The ICRC is continuing to speak to both sides to gain access to Wafa Al-Quid water station in order to evaluate the situation and, if possible, resume operations using back-up generators that it recently overhauled.

  • For the time being, hospitals appear be functioning and to have sufficient staff, equipment and materials.

Erbil, northern Iraq

  • The ICRC transported one wounded Australian journalist and the mortal remains of another from the Kurdish-controlled area to the Iranian border, where they were handed over to the Australian consul in Iran.

  • Otherwise, the situation is described as calm. Several hundreds of thousands of people have probably left their homes. However, ICRC staff and local authorities report that only several thousand of them are in a vulnerable condition.