The suffering of Iraqi civilians is worsening and there is no sign yet that a security crackdown in Baghdad is bringing relief, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.
Hospitals were stretched to the limit by daily mass casualties, malnutrition was on the rise and power shortages were becoming more frequent around the country, the relief agency said.
"The humanitarian situation is steadily worsening and it is affecting, directly or indirectly, all Iraqis," the ICRC said.
Thousands of Iraqis continued to be forced out of their homes owing to military operations, generally poor security and the destruction of houses, it said.
All parties to the conflict, including coalition forces, needed to do more to protect ordinary people it said in a report called 'Civilians without Protection, the ever-worsening humanitarian crisis in Iraq'.
"The suffering that Iraqi men, women and children are enduring today is unbearable and unacceptable," Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told a news conference.
He said there was no indication yet the clampdown in Baghdad, launched in February by Iraqi and US-led coalition forces, was improving the situation of civilians.
"We are not seeing a stabilising effect yet," said the official, whose Swiss-based organization is one of the few humanitarian groups to have foreign staff in Iraq.
The report detailing ICRC operations gave no new figures on the humanitarian impact of the continuing violence, which began with the ousting of former President Saddam Hussein by coalition forces in 2003 and is being fuelled by sectarian rivalry.
But unemployment and hardship levels were rising, with an estimated one third of the population living in poverty and five per cent in extreme poverty. Both the quantity and quality of drinking water was insufficient, despite some improvements, mainly in the south.
Doctors and nurses were fleeing the country in large numbers because of the murder and abduction of colleagues, leaving hospitals and other key services desperately short of qualified staff, the ICRC said. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, some 106,000 families, probably more than 600,000 people, have been driven from their homes to seek refuge elsewhere in Iraq since February 2006.
"The outlook is bleak, particularly in Baghdad and other areas with mixed communities, where the situation is likely to worsen," the ICRC warned.