Dying for Help



Baby on board: Baghdad is so dangerous that I’m installing warning signs in the rear windows of cars. Not that these will do any good.

The noose has tightened around Iraq’s beleaguered people — at least those who haven’t already taken sides in the uncivil war between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Those who are fleeing are being denied asylum — even those Iraqis who have helped the “coalition.” Those who haven’t fled can’t get aid.

The latest news today from IRIN, the U.N.’s dogged news service:

Aid workers are struggling to find safer ways to deliver aid to displaced and vulnerable families in Baghdad. The city, which is now effectively divided along religious lines, is increasingly under the control of armed gangs and is seen by aid agencies as the most dangerous place in Iraq in which to operate.

Hell, in the triple-digit heat they can’t even get electricity. Yesterday, IRIN reported:

The power supply situation has been getting worse and in the past three months millions of people have been getting less than three hours of power a day, according to the Iraq Aid Association.

The only real surge is an ominously increasing polarization of Iraqis, as today’s IRIN story points out:

“We don’t have freedom to deliver aid to displaced families,” Fatah Ahmed, vice-president of the Iraqi Aid Association (IAA), said. “Unfortunately, we have to choose which families to help taking into account the safety of our volunteers.”

“Sunni volunteers are being sent to Sunni neighbourhoods and Shia to Shia areas,” he added.

Ahmed recently became vice-president of the IAA after Jamal Hussein, the former vice-president, was killed while delivering aid in a Baghdad suburb.

“He was killed because he was a Shia helping Sunni families. For this reason we prefer to send volunteers to areas where at least they can be welcomed,” he said.

As if mad bombers weren’t enough of a threat, it’s Iraqi vs. Iraqi, Muslim vs. Muslim. Here’s more:

According to Mayada Marouf, a spokesperson for the locally-based group Keeping Children Alive (KCA), local aid agencies have rated neighbourhoods according to their safety, leaving the most dangerous areas to be covered by the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.

“Dora, Sadr City, Adhamiyah, Alawi, Batawin, Hayfa and Hurryia are the most dangerous places,” Mayada said.

“We had to stop using cars with emblems of our aid organisation to prevent us being targeted,” she said. “We have to carry the supplies in small cars making many trips, each time taking a different route.”

Mayada and Ahmed agreed that Baghdad had never been so violent, and aid had never been so hard to deliver. They said many local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had stopped their operations after being targeted.

“The easiest way for them [armed groups] to make you stop your work is by kidnapping one of your volunteers. Since December 2006 when Iraqi Red Crescent staff were kidnapped, we have become scared and have had to adopt a low profile in our work, delivering aid according to which areas are safe, rather than which ones have more needs,” Mayada said.

“Some aid agencies have moved to northern areas of Iraq to continue their work in relative safety, even if the needs there are less than in Baghdad,” Ahmed said.

Even the reviled U.S. presence in Iraq is no longer unifying Iraqis. Unplug your iPod and imagine yourself in Baghdad.