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White House Agency Discusses Plan for Humanitarian Assistance to Iraq

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2003 – Even if the United States disarms Iraq by force and gives Saddam Hussein the boot, its military campaign's success may be judged on different things: how well and quickly it restores Iraq and leaves.

Critics of U.S. policy predict a war with Iraq will result in a humanitarian disaster, even though humanitarian and rebuilding efforts have gone well in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said publicly that Afghanistan could serve as a model for a post-Hussein Iraq.

At a briefing here today at the Old Executive Office Building, members of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance laid out preliminary plans on how they would proceed in the war's aftermath if a U.S. invasion becomes necessary.

The agency for the past six months has been planning how to rebuild Iraq and, even more importantly, how to deal with a possible humanitarian crisis if an estimated 2 million refugees are forced from their homes in a repeat of the 1991 Gulf War.

Elliott Abrams, special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and North Africa at the National Security Council, said that food, clothes and blankets have already been pre-positioned throughout the region in four separate countries. He would not disclose the countries, citing military reasons.

In addition, he said, millions of dollars have already been set aside to help relief organizations in the region. Abrams said the State Department has provided over $15 million to international agencies for contingency planning requirements, $15 million to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and $100,000 to the International Organization for Migration.

"We know that conflict can have a number of humanitarian effects," Abrams said. "It can increase the number of displaced persons, it can interrupt the oil for food distribution, and it can disrupt electricity supplies."

However, he said, providing food and other relief is only one problem his panel of advisers faces. They have to plan around whatever Hussein has in store.

Will he use weapons of mass destruction, or order Iraqi oil wells set ablaze as he did Kuwait's in 1991? Might he encourage ethnic violence or destroy Iraq's infrastructure? Those are questions the advisers can't answer, Abrams said, so instead, they laid out a strategy with six key goals:

o Minimize displacement, damage to the infrastructure and disruption of services. Abrams said the U.S. military is helping to identify key humanitarian infrastructure and cultural sites for protection.

o Rely primarily on civilian nongovernment organizations to manage relief efforts. The United Nations and other civilian agencies would take the lead, with the United States providing financial support, he said.

o Practice effective civil-military coordination. The agency has set up 60-person Disaster Assistance Response Teams. These teams would enter liberated areas of Iraq and, with the military, coordinate humanitarian relief efforts.

o Facilitate the operations of international organizations and NGOs. The United States would provide civilian experts as liaisons to help staff civil-military coordination centers.

o Pre-position relief supplies. Stockpiles of blankets, water containers, shelter supplies and medicine are being forward-deployed to the region and 46 40-foot containers are currently en route to the Gulf. The United States is also stockpiling 2.89 million humanitarian daily rations.

o Support the resumption of the ration-distribution system. Abrams said almost all Iraqis use the Oil-For-Food ration distribution systems, and he United States would support efforts to maintain that system.

When and if the time comes to rebuild Iraq, the Pentagon will play a key role, according to Joseph Collins, deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations.

"If the president orders military action, the Department of Defense is prepared to support any military contingency and humanitarian relief during combat and to support reconstruction after combat," he said, citing several ways the military will aid in each phase of the agency's six goals. Collins said that during the reconstruction effort, DoD is ready to support NGOs and other agencies, but most importantly "to help prepare the Iraqis for self- government.

The United States wants to return Iraq to the Iraqi people -- both Abrams and Collins emphasized that bottom line, as many in the White House and Pentagon have over the past month.

For instance, "It is a war to liberate perhaps the most talented population in the Arab world, people who I think are ready to build a society and a government that could become a model for the future for others," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Feb. 16 in British Broadcasting Corp. interviews.

During a Feb. 23 "town hall" meeting in Dearborn, Mich., a city with a large Iraqi-American population, Wolfowitz said the U.S. aim for Iraq is to "Stay as long as necessary and leave as soon as possible." The key for getting out quickly, he said, is to allow the "Iraqis to come together quickly."

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