CRS History in Iraq
Home to ancient Mesopotamia and several sites mentioned in the Bible, Iraq is considered the "cradle of civilization." For much of its history, however, Iraq has also been embroiled in war. Years of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein were marked by wars with Iran along with the United States and its allies, mass murders of Iraqi civilians by Saddam's forces, economic sanctions, deep national debt and rampant poverty. Current sectarian violence stemming from the U.S. invasion in 2003 has resulted in widespread destruction, displacement, trauma and continuing poverty.
Catholic Relief Services began assisting Iraqi war victims immediately after the Gulf War in 1991. In 1999, following international sanctions and the call of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, CRS partnered with Caritas Iraq to reinitiate humanitarian programs addressing the growing needs of the Iraqi population. Maintaining a joint local office, CRS and Caritas supported undernourished children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and elderly and disabled Iraqis.
CRS also began helping Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In 2003, CRS pledged $1 million to develop a broader regional response with local partners in each of these countries. CRS supplied health services, medicine and emergency supplies, including blankets, kerosene and food to over 25,000 displaced and injured people. Many of these people lost family members due to the fighting and were left homeless when they could not return to their communities.
In the next year, CRS focused on helping Iraqis restore lost incomes, strengthen civil society and rebuild their country. CRS programs involved long-term reconstruction and development of local villages and school systems, as well as a nationwide supplemental feeding program targeting children and women.
In June 2004, CRS pulled its foreign personnel out of Iraq and officially closed down the Baghdad office because of the deteriorating security situation. CRS nevertheless continues to provide humanitarian aid to vulnerable families in Iraq through Caritas, local Catholic charities and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.