Thursday, November 24, 2005

Iraq’s Red Crescent relief organization found its own way to mark the Thanksgiving holiday yesterday by announcing that it had sent a $1 million “thank you” donation to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The sum, transferred by wire on Sunday, amounts to 20 percent of the organization’s annual budget.

“I wish we could have a billion dollars to give,” Said Hakki, the organization’s president, said by telephone from Baghdad. “Even then, it is not enough to show our appreciation for what the U.S. has done for Iraq and is still doing.”

The donation was made with the approval of the office of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and is thought to mark the first time that Iraq has sent aid to the United States.

Haydar al-Abadi, a senior adviser to the prime minister, said in a separate telephone interview that he was worried that the gesture — though noble — could prompt complaints that the money should have been spent on the country’s own emergencies.

But Mr. Hakki was adamant.

“Giving thanks is an Iraqi tradition as well as an American one. This is the minimum we could do after the Americans shed their blood in our country, mixing their blood with ours,” he said.

He said the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein was “a blessing from God, and the U.S. was His tool.”

Mr. Hakki left his job as a urology professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa last year to take charge of his country’s massive — and often lethally dangerous — relief operations.

Those dangers were underlined two months ago when two truckloads of relief aid were captured by Islamic extremists. Their two drivers and two volunteers narrowly escaped being beheaded .

The Red Crescent, which operates in Iraq much as the Red Cross does in the United States, says it has four of its original nine trucks left, the remainder having been stolen by terrorists to be sold or destroyed in clashes. One of its 12 ambulances was destroyed during fighting in Najaf.

Since the overthrow of Saddam’s regime in 2003, the Iraqi Red Crescent has been distributing an average of 46 truckloads of medicine, food and water across Iraq every month.

The supplies come mainly from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey and from some Christian organizations. National Red Cross societies and the International Red Cross also have sent supplies.

The flow of trucks was quadrupled during the U.S. assault on rebel-held Fallujah late last year and during recent battles to end insurgent control of Tal Afar and Haditha, Mr. Hakki said.

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