Hundreds of families remain displaced after U.S.-led offensives earlier this month against insurgent activity in the cities of Ramadi and al-Qaim in the west of the country, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS).
"We were astonished when we found hundreds of families refusing to return home because they expect more military operations in the area," said Maruan Kalif, an IRCS volunteer in Ramadi, capital of the Anbar province.
On December 2, U.S. troops launched an offensive in the city, some 110 km west of the capital Baghdad, after insurgents were shown on television walking the streets with impunity.
Thousands of local residents fled in the ensuing violence, which included numerous air strikes.
Almost 700 families in the Anbar governorate are now reported by the ICRS to be living in makeshift refugee camps, abandoned schools and government buildings. Hundreds more have taken refuge in the homes of family and friends.
"Those families are suffering a hard winter this year," said IRCS Spokeswoman Ferdous al-Abadi from Baghdad. "We've been working to re-supply them with essential items, but many problems remain."
Al-Abadi cited "social and health problems" among refugees living in camps "situated in the middle of a desert area."
Doctors from the Anbar governorate have also noted an increase in the prevalence of diarrhea and pulmonary infections among children and the elderly.
"I've observed a noticeable worsening in the quality of heath among displaced children in the area, even among those who have returned to their homes," said Waleed Rabia'a, a doctor at al-Qaim's foremost hospital.
U.S. military forces ended a major offensive in al-Qaim, some 420 km west of the capital, in November. But several hundred families have refused to return home in the interim, preferring to live in an improvised camp near Rawa, some 20 km east of the city, or with relatives in the countryside.
"I can't return to al-Qaim because I want my children to have long lives," said Saleh Rawi, an al-Qaim resident and father of three, currently looking after his children in an IRCS camp near Rawa.
"The military will be back and will destroy more houses, and I don't want my children to see that," he added.
With the IRCS's stores of essential materials on the wane, the aid agency has appealed to other international charity organizations to send supplies to the two groups of displaced peoples.
"We never know when there will be an attack somewhere, so we must also store items to help people in the future," said al-Abadi.
Local observers also express worry that those displaced by military operations in the west of the country -- a populous, majority-Sunni area -- will be unable to participate in upcoming parliamentary elections.
"They call on U.S. to vote for a better Iraq," said Amer Abdul, who fled the fighting in Ramadi, "but all we see is the suffering of our children in this supposedly democratic country."
[Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]
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