Iraq Cemeteries Refuse to Bury Coronavirus Victims

Workers in protective suits spray disinfectants near the gate of Shalamcha Border Crossing, after Iraq shut a border crossing to travelers between Iraq and Iran (file photo: Reuters)
Workers in protective suits spray disinfectants near the gate of Shalamcha Border Crossing, after Iraq shut a border crossing to travelers between Iraq and Iran (file photo: Reuters)
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Iraq Cemeteries Refuse to Bury Coronavirus Victims

Workers in protective suits spray disinfectants near the gate of Shalamcha Border Crossing, after Iraq shut a border crossing to travelers between Iraq and Iran (file photo: Reuters)
Workers in protective suits spray disinfectants near the gate of Shalamcha Border Crossing, after Iraq shut a border crossing to travelers between Iraq and Iran (file photo: Reuters)

Most Iraqis who have died from the coronavirus haven’t had traditional burials after many graveyards refused to receive their bodies.

Families of the victims are now facing a challenge of properly burying them amid the threat of being exposed to the virus and transmitting it to others.

The traditional graveyards, whether those designated for the Shiite community in Najaf or the Sunni sect in Diyala, do not allow for the burial of COVID-19 victims.

The Health Ministry has so far announced 30 deaths from the coronavirus. However, people are concerned that the virus could be transmitted through dead bodies.

Observers warn against the accumulation of bodies in hospitals in the event of a rise in the number of victims.

Malik Kadhim Ismail al-Shammari, 67, died from the disease six days ago, but his body remains in Ibn al-Qaf hospital because his family hasn’t been able to find a burial place. The family is appealing to the religious authority in Najaf and the Iraqi government to find a solution.

Shammari contracted the virus two weeks ago after he went to Kadhimiya city, according to the family’s neighbor Fadhel Abu Abbas. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that Shammari was not in Iran, but it seems that the infection was transmitted to him during his visit to the city.

Abu Abbas explained that the family has been unable to bury the dead man after Najaf cemeteries and the cemetery of Mohammad Sakran in Diyala banned them from taking any action.

In addition, some 30 members of the family were put in isolation over fears that they had contracted the virus.

Head of the Baghdad Health Directorate in al-Karkh neighborhood Jaseb al-Hajjami criticized the authorities and people refusing to bury the dead.

Hajjami wrote a post on Facebook, attacking those who prevent relatives from burying their loved ones, especially that some family members are in isolation and the bodies remain in hospital morgues.

The official explained that the authorities have been trying to bury a coronavirus victim for the past week, after his wife and son were infected and hospitalized, and the rest of his family members are in isolation.

He asserted that there is no reason to reject the burial of coronavirus victims, especially that the process is secured medically and that the infection does not spread because the virus dies under the soil after a short period of time.

Member of Sadrist movement Hakem al-Zamili warned that refusal to bury the victims has led to the accumulation of bodies in morgues, noting that the disease could spread from hospitals to nearby neighborhoods.

Zamili explained that Baghdad governorate chose a place over 30 kilometers away from the nearest residential area on the outskirts of Baghdad to bury coronavirus victims.

However, locals refused despite specialists and medical staff asserting that the bodies will be placed at a depth of six meters.

He called on the government and the crisis unit to establish a safe place away from residential areas to create a cemetery for the burials.



Food Piles Up at Gaza Crossing as Aid Agencies Say Unable to Work

Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
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Food Piles Up at Gaza Crossing as Aid Agencies Say Unable to Work

Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP

Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat, AFP reported.

More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine.

Desperation among Gaza's 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid.

Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.

"The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a briefing late Friday.

"Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations."

But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the United Nations over why the aid is stacking up.

It shared aerial footage of containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.

With civil order breaking down in Gaza, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.

A deputy UN spokesman this week said the crossing "is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area".

William Schomburg, International Committee of the Red Cross chief in Rafah, said arranging lorries from the Egyptian side in particular was complicated.

"It's not just a question of civil order, but also the fact that you often have to cross battlefields," he said in an online briefing, adding that the area near Kerem Shalom had been hostile.

"There were even rockets fired nearby. So this whole area is particularly complicated to navigate for reasons linked to the hostilities and for reasons linked to general security."

Israel's coordinator for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said Thursday "the content of 1,200 aid trucks awaits collection by UN aid agencies", saying a lack of distribution was responsible.

Earlier in the week, COGAT spokesman Shimon Freedman told reporters at the crossing the daily pause on a southern road into Gaza was designed to allow the UN "to collect and distribute more aid" alongside an Israeli military presence.

He said most of the aid had not moved because "organizations have not taken sufficient steps to improve their distribution capacity".

Aid agencies have instead pointed to Israel's offensive on the southern city of Rafah, which pushed out more than a million people and closed a border crossing with Egypt, as a deepening humanitarian crisis hampered relief efforts.

Schomburg described Rafah City as a "ghost town".

"It is a ghost town in the sense that you see very few people, high levels of destruction, and really just another symbol of the unfolding tragedy that has become Gaza over the last nine months," he said.

The UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by "desperate people".

As both sides stall, it is the civilians in Gaza who are paying the price.

"We don't see any aid. Everything we get to eat comes from our own money and it's all very expensive," said Umm Mohammad Zamlat, 66, from northern Gaza but now living in Khan Yunis in the south.

"Even agencies specialized in aid deliveries are not able to provide anything to us," she added.