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Iraq crisis 2003

Family sheltering underground© InfoSummary

  • Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, the situation for the Iraqi people was very difficult. Across the country, there was a high level of insecurity and unemployment and many people were forced to leave their homes in order to escape fierce fighting. These people were often in urgent need of food, water and shelter as well as medical care.
  • The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has had a constant presence in Iraq since 1934, which gave it a unique opportunity to help vulnerable people across the country.
  • On 20 March 2003, the same day the conflict started, the British Red Cross launched an emergency appeal, which raised over £2 million. The money paid for vital medical equipment that was used during the hostilities to help people rebuild their lives.
  • On 19 August 2003, a bomb seriously damaged the UN compound in Baghdad, and just two months later, on 27 October, another bomb went off outside of the International Committee of the Red Cross' (ICRC) headquarters in the capital. Several people were killed in both incidents, which forced the Red Cross to scale down its activities in Iraq.

The International Red Cross response

During the conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assumed the lead role in co-ordinating the Red Cross response inside Iraq, while the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) co-ordinated activities in neighbouring countries.

The ICRC, working with the Iraqi Red Crescent, provided hospitals with medical supplies and personnel, repaired water and electricity networks, reunited families, registered prisoners of war (POWs) and acted as the neutral intermediary between POWs, the coalition forces and the Iraqi government.

Meanwhile, the Federation, working with other National Societies in neighbouring Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran, set up camps in order to help people fleeing Iraq.

The British Red Cross response

The British Red Cross, through the ICRC and Federation, supported the development of the Iraqi Red Crescent. By funding a health specialist, it helped the Iraqi Red Crescent implement a health education programme, in particular the nationwide health campaign, which fights the spread of diarrhoea and communicable diseases. The campaign provides vulnerable groups with information and sanitation material to prevent future outbreaks of diseases.

The British Red Cross provided ongoing support to the Iraqi Red Crescent by funding the Federation’s head of delegation who helps co-ordinate the National Society’s programmes. It also funded the Federation’s regional disaster preparedness co-ordinator who helps the National Societies in Syria, Jordan and Iraq prepare for future emergencies. This ranges from helping recruit and train volunteers to improve logistics systems.

Money raised by the British Red Cross appeal paid for vital medical equipment, which was handed over to the ICRC during the hostilities, and helped victims rebuilding their lives.

The British Red Cross’ international tracing and message service played a vital part in establishing contact between families living in the UK and Iraq, and the international law department was in regular contact with the British government on humanitarian law matters. This ranged from reminding the authorities of the rules that apply to people who no longer take part in a conflict to making sure they allowed the Red Cross to carry out its humanitarian work.

Current emergencies

Protecting people in armed conflict