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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Charity anger at Iraq 'anarchy'
By David Fuller
BBC News Online, Berkshire

The killing of a British freelance journalist in Baghdad has highlighted the dangers to non-military personnel. Ian Lethbridge, programmes director with Berkshire's Feed the Children, told BBC News Online how he feared for his life in the Iraqi capital.

children outside their ruined home
Children playing in front of their cordoned off house
Mr Lethbridge returned from Baghdad last week, where he was supervising the charity's attempts to get food and medicines to children and families.

Having visited Iraq twice since the end of the war, he said the situation was getting worse since the fighting stopped.

"The people were frustrated when I was there a month ago.

"Last week they were downright angry - the mood was noticeably different this time."

Despite the lack of food, medicines and electricity, the lack of security, he said, was the most crucial issue facing the country.

Conflict veteran

"We targeted dozens of the poorest families for aid.

"They were suffering because they didn't have enough food for the kids, they didn't have fresh water,- they didn't have electricity, but despite that, the thing they were most worried about was the security.

Ian Lethbridge
It's very volatile - one minute you're safe in an area, the next you're not - it's very uncertain
Ian Lethbridge
"That was the thing they kept coming back to time and time again.

"One family living in the church compound where we store our food and supplies - they haven't been outside for three months - it's too dangerous."

Mr Lethbridge, who now lives in Henley, is a veteran of international conflicts, working with the UN in Africa for 12 years before coming to the UK.

"It's anarchy. It reminded me of the feeling in Somalia where it's very volatile.

"One minute you're safe in an area, the next you're not - it's very uncertain.

"There's these guys cruising round in pickups with weapons preying on anything they can find.

"You just pray you don't get a puncture - you break down or stop by the side of the road, they'll pounce on you."

He said children were getting ill, mainly because of the lack of power: "The electricity is crucial, without it you can't pump water, you can't pump sewage.

These looters threatened Mr Lethbridge with an AK47 shortly after this picture was taken
"I went to two hospitals, out of 20 in Baghdad, and they were just full of sick and dying kids.

"It's usually because of waterborne problems.

"They're drinking filthy water and just ending up with dysentery - every disease going the kids are getting because there's no treatment of the water."

Feed the Children has sent in five containers of food since the end of the war - about five metric tons in total.

'Different story'

He compared the situation with that in Afghanistan after the war there.

"It was a very different story - a week after the bombing started, we took 50 metric tons in.

"By this point in Afghanistan, we had 30 bakeries turning out high-protein biscuits, feeding 30,000 people a day.

"We had people on the ground. In Iraq it's too dangerous for Westerners to be there.

Iraqis were still suffering because of the international divisions over the legality of the war, he said.

"Other European countries, like France and Germany are not doing much in Iraq - it's mostly the US-based, the British based charities that are to the fore.

"The feeling seems to be - it's the (coalition) military that got us into this mess - let them sort it out."

Regime orphans

He said Saddam's rule in Iraq had created a problem the charity had never come across before.

"Regime orphans - children whose parents, or whole families had been killed by the regime - were incarcerated in maximum security detention centres.

"They were released at the same time as Saddam released all the criminals from the jails.

He spoke of how the medical situation in Iraq had been manipulated by Saddam for propaganda purposes.

"Huge stores of expired drugs have been discovered that weren't delivered to the hospitals, just so Saddam could show journalists these dying kids and say, there's no drugs."

'No plan'

He admitted he was angry that the situation had been allowed to deteriorate so badly after the war:

"You just don't go into something like that without a plan - and I really question whether there is a plan.

"People are a lot worse off than they were before."

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