- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Some Iraqis torn apart by war and exile have been out of touch with their families for years, even decades. Now they've got a chance to reconnect through a Red Cross message service.
One Iraqi prisoner from the Iran-Iraq war, who had been interned for 21 years and got back to his homeland just before the U.S.-led coalition's advance, contacted his family on Wednesday for the first time since he left home to fight in the 1980-88 war.
The man learned at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Baghdad that his family had moved to the Netherlands, and was able to call his wife to say he was alive and well. The Red Cross delegation described it as one of the best moments they've had in a long time.
The ICRC established a special tracing unit for Iraq at its training center near Geneva on March 26.
Here, more than 50 people, mainly English/Arabic translators, data-entry operators and specialists in detention-related and tracing activities collect data on prisoners of war and information needed to restore family links.
The primary goal of the service is to let people inside Iraq contact their families around the world. "Those people cannot telephone, so they ask us to send a message just saying that 'We are safe and well,'" said ICRC spokeswoman Antonella Notari.
These messages are immediately forwarded to addressees worldwide through the network of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The unit has gotten more than 800 messages from Iraq to send to about 30 countries, and the success rate is over 90 percent, Ms. Notari said.
The families trying to trace their loved ones in Iraq also could go to just-opened Web site www.familylinks.icrc.org, designed to help separated relatives locate one another and exchange news. The site receives about 400 requests a day.
The ICRC hopes that as electricity and communication facilities are restored in Iraq, more people will be able to use the service.
The agency has limited capacity to move around Iraq; however, as the security improves, the ICRC is going to help reconnect families inside the country as well.

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