After weeks of clashes, violence continues to escalate in the city of Najaf in Iraq. Hundreds of families have fled the fighting and sought shelter with relatives in nearby Kerbala, Kufa or elsewhere.
For the ordinary people of Najaf, these are terrifying days. Residents remain indoors, too afraid to venture out except in extreme need. Electricity and water supplies have been disrupted, and the price of some food has doubled, as supply is uncertain.
Fighting is concentrated around the Old City where Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's supporters are based near the mausoleum of Imam Ali. Tanks, helicopter gunships and snipers have reduced many houses in the area to rubble. Journalists have been ordered to leave the town, which is home to 600,000 people.
There is a severe shortage of medical supplies and beds in Najaf’s main hospital. Staff have reported that ambulances have been unable to reach injured people, and medical staff have been prevented from reaching the hospital by fierce fighting.
During the earlier crisis in Falluja, Islamic Relief staff in Iraq gained valuable experience in delivering aid in dangerous conditions to communities trapped by conflict. That experience was put to good use when Islamic Relief became the only international aid agency to reach the people of Najaf, in addition to the Red Crescent.
Two trucks carrying critically needed medical and humanitarian aid have reached Najaf and Kufa.
The medical supplies, including surgical instruments, oxygen masks, sutures etc, should help ease the pressure on Najaf General Hospital and Al Furat Al Awsat hospital which have been overwhelmed by casualties.
The medical relief was organised in cooperation with the director of health in Najaf, to ensure that appropriate aid was dispatched to the town.
The IR team visited two groups of displaced families, in Gadida Ward on the outskirts of Najaf, and also in the courtyard of Imam Abu Bakr Bin Ali Mosque outside Kufa. The families were in a miserable state, lacking even basic supplies. They received humanitarian aid including bedding, blankets, and hygiene kits.
During the initial needs assessment visit to Najaf, a staff member was held by local fighters, but safely released after two days. The incident serves to highlight the personal danger aid workers face when delivering relief in areas of conflict.
Security concerns remain the biggest obstacle to the delivery of aid to civilians in war-torn Najaf.