by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
surgeon and professor at the Basra teaching hospital recently watched a vendetta carried out in a hospital room.
"A patient was pursued by his assailants into the room where, in front of the doctors, he was shot twice at point-blank range. When they found that he had survived, his assailants returned the same evening to finish him off," the surgeon was quoted as saying.
The story illustrates the lack of security in Iraq's second-largest city, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Fadela Chaib, who visited the hospital, told reporters Thursday.
A growing number of military attacks on U.S. forces over the last few weeks are also adding to the difficulty of carrying out humanitarian relief operations inside Iraq.
The strongest criticisms of the security situation have come from two UN agencies on the ground: WHO and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF spokesman Geoffrey Keele told reporters Thursday that hundreds of children around the country continue to be seriously injured or killed by cluster bombs dropped during the 44-day war, or by munitions stored by Iraqi soldiers in public places, such as schools.
At Al-Noor General Hospital in Baghdad, more than 60 children have been treated for injuries or have died, after being exposed to unexploded ordnance.
The injuries have ranged from severe burns to the face, hands and bodies, to amputations, death and, "gaping stomach and face wounds," according to Ammar Jabbar, a physician at the hospital.
Asked to list three of its key priorities in Baghdad, a WHO spokesman told reporters last week: "Security, security and security."
The United States, which has about 140,000 troops in Iraq, bolstered its military strength with an additional 20,000 troops last month, primarily to restore law and order in the occupied country.
But last week, a senior U.S. army commander declared to reporters that the U.S.-led war on Iraq is not over -- despite victory celebrations in the United States last month.
"We are in a combat zone. We're still in the process of removing the regime," said Lt. Gen. David McKiernam.
In a report released last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that two months after entering Basra, the coalition forces have failed to make security a high enough priority. "Eight weeks later, there's simply no excuse for the continuing insecurity on the ground," Saman Zia-Zarifi of HRW said.
The 24-page report, titled "Basra: Crime and Insecurity Under British Occupation,' said carjackings and organized looting plagued neighborhoods, while women and girls were reluctant to return to jobs and schools because criminals roamed the streets.
"There is something terribly wrong when Iraqis are now calling for their former corrupt and brutal police force to provide some semblance of security," Zia-Zarifi said.
The breakdown in security after the U.S. invasion has turned Basra into a no-man's land where only the law of the jungle prevails, say several humanitarian agencies and human rights groups.
"We find ourselves carrying out operations while the patient's relatives are waiting outside the operating theatre with guns and knives to take revenge if things go wrong," the surgeon from the Basra hospital was quoted as saying.
Chaib says the 20 or so doctors and nurses she spoke to all had similar stories to tell. "Tawra, a nurse, had been threatened by a hand grenade for trying to restore some sort of order during visiting hours," she said.
Last month, a UNICEF spokesman in Baghdad was quoted as saying that the inability of U.S. forces to provide security threatened the lives of more than 300,000 Iraqi children.
"We know the risks that Iraq's children face, and we know what to do, but we are humanitarian workers not police," said Carel de Rooy.
"Secure aid delivery equals effective relief. We are still calling on someone to deliver that security," de Rooy added.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN Special Representative in Iraq, met with senior UK and U.S. military and civilian officials in Baghdad on Wednesday. One of the priority issues reportedly discussed at the meeting was the re-establishment of law and order in the country.
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