Relief workers who witnessed the plight of Kurds in Iraq described a "nightmare" of victims horribly burned by napalm bombs, starving children and a population of perhaps millions imprisoned in camps after their villages were destroyed.
The volunteers from the international relief agency Medicins Sans Frontieres estimated Thursday that at least a million Iraqi Kurds are trapped in the frigid northern mountains along the Turkish border without food, clothing or shelter - many too weak to continue their desperate flight from the country.Dr. Marcel Roux, who was in the Kurdish region of Iraq March 26-April 3, told members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus of "terrible suffering" by Kurds under bombardment by the Iraqi army and of "absolute panic" as villagers, their children barefoot and wearing only pajamas, fled through the snow-covered mountains.
"It was simply terrible," said Roux. "Many women, children, many mostly civilian people were burned" by napalm and phosphorous bombs. He described the conditions of those fleeing the country as "a nightmare."
Roux said at the beginning of his group's mission to assess conditions in the region, Kurdish rebels had captured several cities and the surrounding countryside was "jubilant."
But within days, he said, visits to hospitals in Solaimanya and Koisanjaq saw a flood of Kurdish victims as Iraqi forces retook the area.
"The hospitals we visited had no more medication," Roux said. "The medical personnel had to use rags to sponge off hemorrhages."
The volunteers from MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, showed the caucus a videotape of victims in the hospitals and at barren camps where the Iraqi army corraled Kurds after destroying their villages.
At one hospital a father who had already lost three of his four children stood helplessly beside the bed of his young son. Members of the panel gasped as the camera panned over the child's legs, burned black from bombing, and learned there was no medicine to alleviate his suffering.
Roux said nearly all of the villages of some 6 million to 7 million Kurds had been destroyed by the Iraqi army and many were confined to camps, called "modern cities" by the army, to keep them from helping the Kurdish rebels.
In the video, an elderly woman in one such camp said: "We have no water. We have no sugar. We have nothing at all. Basically this is a jail."
Roux said there were "maybe a million people in the mountains ... without any food, without any clothes, without any shelter." He said many babies and old people died and predicted hundreds of thousands more were likely to follow, with only the water of mountain streams to sustain them for a rigorous 4-5 day journey to the border.
"If you don't have any food, any shelter, any warm clothes, you just wait for death," Roux said.