French medical supplies cross border with Jordan on long journey to Baghdad

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The Independent Online

The medical aid agency Médecins sans Frontières sent two trucks full of emergency medical supplies to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, yesterday, achieving what has caused American and British troops so much difficulty – getting humanitarian aid into Iraq.

The medical aid agency Médecins sans Frontières sent two trucks full of emergency medical supplies to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, yesterday, achieving what has caused American and British troops so much difficulty – getting humanitarian aid into Iraq.

The trucks, which contained 10 tons of medical supplies – enough for 300 surgical operations – set off from Amman on the 17-hour journey to Baghdad. A Jordanian taxi driver on this route who stopped to make a telephone call has already been killed by American bombing early in the campaign.

American and British special forces are believed to be operating in the desert on either side of the road.

There has been international concern over the humanitarian position elsewhere in Iraq, especially in Basra where the clean water supply to the city was cut off after cables supplying electricity to the main water plant were damaged.

The Allied forces finally delivered food supplies to the captured port of Umm Qasr yesterday, but they say they cannot bring in ships full of humanitarian supplies until the port is demined.

But other ways into Iraq are open to Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), an independent charity that is prepared to work with either side to get medical help in. There has not been great concern over Baghdad, but MSF says that will change and that it wants to get supplies in before they are needed.

MSF is one of few international aid organisations to stay on in Iraq. The charity has a team of six volunteer doctors in Baghdad – from France, Italy, Norway, Austria, Sudan and Algeria.

They are working in Baghdad's al-Kindi General hospital alongside Iraqi doctors, and MSF says they intend to stay despite the danger from US and British bombing of the city. "MSF has notified the relevant coalition and Iraqi officials about this convoy, and the trucks are clearly identified as humanitarian," Catrin Schulte-Hillen, an MSF midwife said in Amman. "For the moment, the al-Kindi staff is working hard to care for their patients, and MSF can provide help if it's needed. Sending back-up material like this is part of our normal operations for any war situation."

MSF said it had checked that the road to Baghdad was still passable. There had been reports of bomb damage. It contacted American and British forces, and the Iraqi authorities, to get clearance for the trucks to travel safely to Baghdad. The onboard supplies include post-operative medicines, sanitation supplies and some food and water.

On Saturday a team from MSF joined staff at the 250-bed al-Kindi hospital in a support capacity. Al-Kindi is designated as one of the hospitals to treat emergency injured, and, up until now, the hospital has been able to cope with the needs, say MSF officials.

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