Millions of Iraqis are in a "disastrous" situation that is getting worse, with mothers appealing for someone to pick up the bodies littering the street so their children will be spared the horror of looking at them on their way to school, the International Red Cross said on Wednesday.
"The conflict in Iraq is inflicting immense suffering on the entire population," said a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "Every day dozens of people are killed and many more wounded."
The 13-page report, titled Civilians Without Protection: The Ever-Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq, was produced over the past two to three weeks, a spokesman said.
"The humanitarian situation is steadily worsening," said the report, which went beyond the neutral agency's usual appeals for all sides to protect civilians as required by the Geneva Conventions. It added photographs and quotes from civilians to describe the situation.
"Once I was called to an explosion site," it quoted a young Baghdad humanitarian worker named Saad as saying. "There I saw a four-year-old boy sitting beside his mother's body, which had been decapitated by the explosion. He was talking to her, asking her what had happened."
Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations of the ICRC, said in introducing the report that there had been a steady deterioration of the situation in Iraq in recent years -- and especially since the increase in sectarian violence in February last year.
Kraehenbuehl said there had been no immediate improvement in the Baghdad area as a result of stepped-up, US-led military operations to secure the capital that began on Feb. 14.
Operations already under way and those in coming weeks may improve the security of civilians on the ground "in the medium term," Kraehenbuehl told reporters.
"We're certainly not seeing an immediate effect in terms of stabilization for civilians currently. That is not our reading," he said.
But he said that in southern Iraq, the security situation has improved in certain instances.
ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal said the report, together with Kraehenbuehl's comments, "reflect the situation on the ground now."
It is difficult to determine the numbers of people killed in shootings, bombings and military operations, but overall the situation in the country has been deteriorating, with numbers of refugees swelling, medical staff fleeing and other problems growing, Kraehenbuehl said.
It is so dangerous for Red Cross workers to move around in Baghdad that "we don't have on a day-to-day basis a full picture of absolutely every situation," he said.
Thousands of bodies lie unclaimed in mortuaries, with family members either unaware that they are there or too afraid to go to recover them, Kraehenbuehl said.
A colleague recently asked several Iraqi women what their most pressing need was.
After a long silence, a woman answered: "The most important thing that anyone could do would be to help collect the bodies that line the streets in front of our homes every morning. No one dares to touch them, but for us it is unbearable to have to expose our children to such images every day as we try to bring them to school," she said.
"Humanitarian aid is clearly not enough when it comes to addressing the immense needs of Iraqis in the present disastrous security situation," the report said.
"Hospitals and other key services are desperately short of staff," Kraehenbuehl said. "According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, more than half the doctors are said to have already left the country."
The number of people in custody has been growing as well, Kraehenbuehl said.
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