Headlines covering Iraq focus on the brutal mass executions performed by the Islamic State (IRIS) or the thousands of refugees Kurdistan struggles to support. Lately, the news spotlight has shed its light on the plight of the Yezidis and their escape from the Sinjar mountains.
While coverage on these issues has been extensive and thorough, Iraq is an expansive country and there are thousands who are receiving little aid and whose stories remain unheard.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) recently investigated the 70,000 displaced Iraqis hiding out in Karbala and Najaf, two holy Shia cities. While these Iraqis do receive some support, the little that they are receiving comes mostly from mosques and local associations and it is not enough.
Abdul Ghafour Ahmed is a 67-year-old man who fled his home in early June. He explains his family’s journey: “After ISIS swept through our village, we tried to go to Kurdistan, but they didn’t receive us for being from the Shiite sect. They were receiving only Kurds and Sunnis. We spent four days at the main border entrance to Kurdistan, but got nothing.”
So the family of nine found their way to the few other safe zones in the country. They are among the lucky ones. As the international community scrambles to provide aid to the thousands in Kurdistan’s refugee camps, there are thousands more stuck in homes.
Amirli is a city half-way between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. IRIS militants surround the city and have it under siege, leaving up to 20,000 people trapped inside.
The United Nations has been attempting to get food to the city, but it is not enough. A doctor volunteering in the area told IRIN, “People are dying…The children are malnourished.”
Zaid Al-Ali, a lawyer in Iraq, expresses the complaint he says everyone — from officials to the general population — has, that, “Kurdistan is getting preferential treatment compared to Baghdad.”
Out of Iraq’s 19 governorates, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a presence in 12 of them.
“We are getting everywhere we can within our security limitations,” Kieran Dwyer, chief of communications for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, defends the U.N.’s lack of aid to cities like Amirli. “This is Iraq, the security limitations are not arbitrarily or unnecessarily applied; it’s a dangerous place.”
The U.N. and other aid agencies have a delicate line to walk, struggling to determine how to get the most aid to the most people without putting themselves in unnecessary danger.
Conditions, Dwyer says, are unstable in Iraq and one minute an area could be secure and the next it may need to be evacuated, and vice versa. The ICRC has been able to finally get supplies to Anbar, the region where IRIS caused over half a million residents to flee. But more is needed.
– Julianne O’Connor
Photo: Neuron Learning