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Humanitarian concerns rise as Iraq offensives continue

6,000 families are displaced in push, officials say

BAGHDAD -- As US-led offensives on insurgent strongholds continue, Iraqi humanitarian officials are expressing concerns about increasing problems for civilians in cities across the country's vast western desert.

US forces announced the detention yesterday of more than a dozen suspected insurgents in the city of Hit during the latest in a series of operations meant to disrupt rebel activity in Iraq's volatile Anbar province. US military officials said they had taken control of Hit this week without incident.

In other recent offensives in Anbar province and along the Syrian border, US Marines said they killed at least 47 insurgents through June 22.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society says 6,000 families have been displaced across Anbar province in the fighting and are suffering in heat that regularly exceeds 110 degrees. The society has dispatched five convoys carrying relief supplies including tents and medical equipment to the region over the past few days.

Medical teams are assessing potential cholera outbreaks caused by bodies buried in rubble.

''It's a tragedy," said Ferdous Abadi, spokeswoman for the society. ''There is a shortage of medical supplies and clean water."

The society is the local equivalent of the Red Cross. Its president, Dr. Said Hakki, is an adviser on humanitarian affairs to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The US military did not respond to questions about the humanitarian situation. It has maintained in news releases that displaced families have begun to return home.

According to a report Wednesday by the Honolulu-based Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, a US organization that coordinates civilian and military humanitarian operations worldwide, about 7,000 Karabileh residents were displaced in recent operations.

A medical official in the region said authorities had gathered the corpses of dozens of people killed in fighting over the last week. Dr. Munaim Aften, director of Ramadi Hospital, said he had taken possession of at least 50 bodies discovered in and around sites of fighting in Qaim and Karabileh. The bodies included those of three women as well as four men with Egyptian passports, he said.

Some bodies had been mutilated beyond recognition, he said.

A security official who recently returned from Ramadi said the corpses had overburdened the local morgue. ''Everyone stayed away from the hospital because of the smell of decaying bodies," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because he feared retribution from insurgents.

Elsewhere across Iraq, insurgents continued their campaign to intimidate Iraqi security forces.

In Baghdad, gunmen killed the cousin of national security adviser Mowafak al-Rubaie. The victim, Taher Kadhem al-Rubayee, was working at his eyeglass shop in the Ameriyah district last night when gunmen stormed in and killed him, an employee, and three customers, an interior ministry official said.

In Baqubah, 45 miles north of the capital, gunmen in a Daewoo sedan attempted to assassinate Colonel Shalaan Abdul-Khaleq, head of the city's elite Rapid Intervention Force. The colonel's brother and two civilians were killed in ensuing hourlong gunfight. Khaleq was severely wounded.

In Hawija, a Sunni-dominated city southwest of Kirkuk, an Iraqi Army officer who was kidnapped Tuesday was found dead, police said.

US forces have launched several offensives over the last month in Sunni Arab stretches of the country in an attempt to disrupt insurgent activity. In the Karabileh operation, for example, Marines freed four hostages who they said showed signs of torture. Several bomb factories were uncovered, and 17 car bombs were disarmed.

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