"We Are Working With Muslims to Assist the Iraqi People"

According to Caritas International Official

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ROME, JUNE 2, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A month after the end of the Iraqi war, Caritas Internationalis sees progress being made in humanitarian efforts.

«We have established good collaboration with the Muslim world despite difficulties arising from the lack of security,» said Karel Zelenka, head of Caritas’ Department for International Collaboration.

In this interview with the Vatican agency Fides, Zelenka, who returned from a fact-finding visit to Iraq, talks about the current situation.

Q: What is Caritas doing in Iraq? Have you relations of collaboration with Muslims?

Zelenka: We have opened centers in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Najaf, and in several villages in northern Iraq. Every center has a pediatrician, a nurse and a team of social workers.

Our main activity is to assist children and mothers. We distribute milk and fresh vegetables to improve the children’s diet. We also give courses to teach young mothers how to care for their children in the situation of hardship in which most of them live.

We have established excellent relations with the Muslim population; in fact, 90% of the people who receive help at our centers are Muslim.

Q: From the point of view of health care, what are the main problems? Which social categories are most at risk?

Zelenka: Hospitals have a shortage of medicines especially those for people suffering from chronic diseases. In Iraq many people have a heart condition and they need to take certain medicines daily. The lack of electricity and water also affects hospitals preventing the use of radiological equipment.

With regard to the most affected categories, I would say particularly the older people living in cities. No pensions are paid since the insurance archives were destroyed.

In view of this situation, the occupying American authorities have decided that every person holding a pension book will receive $40 a month.

Q: How does the problem of insecurity affect the process of rebuilding the country?

Zelenka: The war left a power vacuum, which has still to be filled. American military authorities find it hard to guarantee conditions of security. It is true that their work is complicated by a series of factors.

For example, it is very difficult to keep order in a city of 6 million such as Baghdad. Iraq is a very urbanized country; almost two-thirds of the people live in towns or cities and this makes it more difficult for those who have to keep order.

There is also the language barrier. Interpreters have been assigned to the American troops to facilitate contact with the local people, but it is impossible to flank every military group with an interpreter.

Q: Then how can you tell if the load of household belongings carried by a truck is legal or stolen?

Zelenka: Insecurity disrupts daily life. Many shops are still closed; public transport works on and off, etc. Many areas are still without electricity and water and most telephone lines are still cut off.

In brief, many people are not working and so they are not earning. From the humanitarian point of view the situation is at the moment under control, particularly with regard to food supplies, because the regime distributed food rations before the war started.

But obviously in the coming months there will be problems also because since the U.N. «oil for food program» was stopped, there is no way for the U.N. to buy food for the Iraqi people by selling Iraq’s oil.

Q: From now on they will have to rely on the market but if people have no money how will they eat?

Zelenka: This is why security must be re-established as soon as possible to allow the economy to function.

Q: As an expert member of a large Catholic humanitarian agency, how do you think security can be guaranteed so that the Iraqi economy may pick up and develop?

Zelenka: Police forces, preferably from Arab countries, must be deployed.

This would mean having a police force that speaks the Iraqi language and is more familiar with the Iraqi culture. Besides, soldiers are not trained for police work, they have other duties.

What is more, the situation differs from town to town. For example, in Mosul, Iraqi policemen and American troops patrol the streets together. When the country has an Iraqi police force again, then a step forward will have been made toward restoring stability.

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