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Rebuilding Iraq


Many relief groups are urging civilian aid for postwar Iraq

By Elizabeth A. Neuffer, Globe Staff, 04/03/2003

UNITED NATIONS -- UN and US relief groups are protesting efforts by the Bush administration to place the Pentagon in charge of delivery of humanitarian aid, saying the arrangement will undermine efforts to help needy Iraqis.

Having the US military oversee relief efforts, aid officials said, will imperil their workers by putting their neutrality at risk and severely compromise otherwise independent efforts to deliver much-needed aid.

A coalition of 160 US non government aid groups urged yesterday that civilians, not the military, oversee the relief efforts.

To work under the Pentagon "complicates our ability to help the Iraqi people and multiplies the dangers faced by relief workers in the field," said a statement issued by Mary E. McClymont, chief executive of InterAction, the largest US alliance of relief groups.

Meanwhile, the UN released new guidelines stating that its personnel may not "assist or participate in the delivery of humanitarian aid by military forces." The guidelines virtually ban any association between UN relief workers and troops in Iraq, other than information sharing.

UN relief workers, the guidelines say, are not to travel in military vehicles, cannot be located with the military forces or in their facilities, and must avoid "socializing in public with military actors or with their civilian representatives."

Even the use of a military escort for aid convoys in dangerous parts of Iraq can only occur in "exceptional circumstances," according to the guidelines issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"There needs to be a clear distinction between humanitarian assistance and military assistance," said Jordan Dey, a spokesman for the World Food Program in New York City.

Both UN officials and relief groups have been urging Washington for months to allow civilian relief groups to oversee aid distribution in Iraq. But the Bush administration has named Jay Garner, a retired US general, to head the Pentagon's new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

Last week, it became clear that even the US State Department wasn't pleased with the military's role. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saying that disaster teams from the US Agency for International Development should head aid efforts, not the US military.

The quarrel isn't over immediate humanitarian aid. While fighting rages in Iraq, both relief groups and UN officials say it is the job of Washington and London as belligerents to take care of civilians under international law.

Sharp differences arise over postwar aid, a job that relief groups say is better suited to neutral, independent organizations.

"The big issue here is how to get the military out of the aid business as soon as possible and get the UN and nongovernmental organizations in," said Kenneth Bacon, the former Pentagon spokesman who now heads the advocacy group Refugees International. "The Pentagon doesn't seem to realize this."

US relief groups urged that USAID oversee relief efforts, saying it is best qualified to do so.

But having civilians in the US government spearhead aid efforts may not satisfy many international aid groups. Notably, the UN guidelines for relief workers also raised concerns about the USAID's disaster- assistance teams, saying that "too close an affiliation with the teams may undermine the perception of the UN's neutrality and impartiality."

Critics of the US-led war against Iraq and possible donors to relief and reconstruction efforts seem to share that view, saying that the UN, not the United States, should take the lead.

"The management of issues in the [postwar] period by the attackers will trigger new conflicts and crisis," the Greek prime minister, Costas Simitas, said yesterday in Athens.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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