International Red Cross enters Fallujah for first time since start of military operations, spokesman says
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Red Cross team entered Fallujah for the first time since a U.S.-led offensive devastated the city and met with Iraqi technicians and engineers to discuss the city’s sewage and water treatment needs, a group spokesman said Friday.
But the team, which entered the city on Tuesday, did not have time to inspect a potato chip warehouse where the military said the bodies of several hundred insurgents or civilians were stored.
The team had wanted to visit the site to verify the number of dead.
“We couldn’t reach the warehouse because of the time limitations,” said Ahmed Rawi, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross who went on the trip. “The ICRC will follow up this issue with the concerned authorities in terms of documenting and then burying the bodies.”
Rawi said the Red Cross team’s movement in the city was limited because of a curfew and because it had to get out before dark. During the time the group was there, the city was mostly quiet except for some sporadic gunfire in the distance, he said.
Rawi didn’t know where the warehouse was located, but seemed to be referring to a former potato chip factory on the outskirts of the city that has been doubling as a temporary morgue for the bodies that U.S. military officials say are of insurgents killed in the fighting in Fallujah. But U.S. officials have acknowledged some of the bodies are too badly decomposed to be identified.
Dozens of bodies in black bags remain in the factory, which has an antiquated refrigeration system. Marines say that the bodies are being treated according to Islamic traditions, with Muslim religious clerics showing them the proper way to bury the corpses.
The U.S. military claims that 1,200 insurgents were killed in the invasion, which began on Nov. 8 and ended a week later. At least 50 Marines and eight Iraqi soldiers were killed, while no civilian casualty figures have been released.
During the visit, the team found that sewage had flooded the streets in parts of Fallujah, Rawi said.
“We reviewed their needs, especially since all the sewage plants and water refining stations in the city are not working,” he said. “Soon, we will send them some equipment and materials that they need in order to get these stations working.”
The ICRC’s mandate is to care for the wounded and other victims of war and it rejects military escorts to demonstrate its independence in conflict zones.
According to Iraqi aid group figures, 210,600 people fled Fallujah after the invasion began on Nov. 8. At least 120,000 of them are in the nearby town of Amiriyah, while about 35,000 went to Baghdad.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society, the ICRC’s sister organization, has temporarily pulled out of Fallujah, meaning there are no humanitarian aid groups in the city.