nterview with Dr. Benoît Émond, a surgeon who recently returned from northern Iraq. You have just returned from northern Iraq. What impact has the conflict had on people living there? The insurgency and the war between armed groups that has been taking place in Iraq over the past few years have had terrible consequences for the civilian population. It is said that around one hundred civilians die every day as a result of the violence. One can easily imagine the overwhelming workload that falls on the few remaining health professionals that have courageously remained, as well as the destructive consequences for the infrastructure used to provide healthcare and to supply equipment and medicines. At the same time, the population in the north of Iraq has benefited from a slight improvement in conditions since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The northern region, which has long demanded independence, is today known as the Autonomous Republic of Kurdistan. With three million Kurds making up the majority of the population, the Kurdish army (the Peshmerga) maintains security at the border of this territory by strictly controlling entry. What are the most common pathologies that you encountered? Our hospital was designed to treat only war wounded and burn victims. We saw on average five or six patients a day who were injured by gunfire or explosions. Several burn cases, often very severe, were also admitted on a daily basis. The large number of burn victims is explained by the widespread use of volatile combustibles like kerosene, the key ingredient in many accidents. At the same time, a large percentage of these cases were young women trying to commit suicide by self-immolation. Are there many other humanitarian organisations working in the north of Iraq at the moment? The relative security that we now see in the region has not only permitted MSF to resume its activities, but also other NGOs that seek to bring aid to the Iraqi people. Tens of organisations have officially registered with the authorities, but they are not all active at the moment. With respect to healthcare, MSF is by far the most active organisation. What about the security risks of providing humanitarian aid in Iraq? For an expatriate aid worker, it is currently unthinkable, for obvious security reasons, to work directly in Iraqi territory, outside of the Kurdish region. We must therefore provide aid in the more secure Kurdish zone, using two approaches. On one hand, we are present in referral hospitals and we work to bring injured patients there. The other approach involves sending supplies to the busiest hospitals in combat zones. In the project where I was working, the two cities targeted for this logistical support are Mosul and Kirkuk. These deliveries must be coordinated and organised with the help of Iraqi intermediaries working in these high-risk zones. These valuable partners put their own lives in danger, for the sole reason that they are associated with the activities of a western organisation. Because of this, communications are done with the highest discretion. Is MSF working elsewhere in Iraq? Yes, but not directly. Other MSF sections are based in Amman and provide logisitical support in supplying Baghdad hospitals with medical equipment. There are also reconstructive surgery programmes (orthopedic and maxillofacial) where patients are identified in Iraq and transported to Amman where they receive specialised care. In addition, there is a programme to support Iraqi refugees in Syria. What is the outlook for our activities in Iraq, and more generally in the region? At the present time, evaluations are underway to expand MSF’s activities and to bring assistance to displaced populations in the north of Iraq. We estimate that about 15,000 families have left the southern regions for the Kurdish provinces in the north. Many of these people have not yet found homes and are still living in camps. With respect to the presence of expatriate volunteers within the Iraqi borders, we will have to wait and see if the current level of security in the north persists. All efforts are being made so that MSF can continue working in the region until the situation improves for this long-suffering civilian population.

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