Iraq

Boucher says U.S. aims to provide quick relief for Iraqi people

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The United States does not view the struggle in Iraq as just a military conflict, says State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher.

During the daily State Department briefing March 20, Boucher said U.S. officials are looking at the entire situation arising from the military action being undertaken. "We're trying to plan the conflict, we're trying to protect against terrorism, we're trying take care of the Iraqi people, and we're trying to plan for helping the Iraqis get back on their own feet and control their own country," he said.

Over the last several months, the spokesman said, the United States has taken "unprecedented steps ... to limit humanitarian consequences of a conflict with Iraq and to provide relief as soon as possible to the Iraqi people."

According to Boucher, the United States has assembled and trained "the largest-ever humanitarian response team," and half of the 60-member Disaster Assistance Team is already in the region.

"We're also prepositioning stockpiles of emergency supplies and commodities, including medical kits, blankets and shelter material, the largest such relief stockpiles we've ever had. And we're communicating and coordinating with U.S. and international humanitarian organizations in funding their preparatory efforts, because they will ultimately be the deliverers of the assistance," Boucher said.

The United States has also provided about $16 million to organizations like the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees so that they can preposition supplies, the spokesman said.

Another $60 million has gone to United Nations and nongovernmental aid organizations for operations in Iraq, he said. This help includes: $2 million to UNICEF for emergency health kits; $40 million to the World Food Program for food and logistics measures, as well as extensive contingency planning; $1 million to the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; $900,000 for a consortium to conduct chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training for other nongovernmental organizations; $100,000 to InterAction to fund an NGO observer to the humanitarian operations center in Kuwait; and $15.6 million to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, for pre-positioning relief commodities and other preparatory efforts.

"We also want to ensure that the most needy and vulnerable people have food available," Boucher said. "That's why we've provided funding to the World Food Program to feed 900,000 displaced persons for up to 10 weeks. And we're in the process of buying and shipping 110,000 metric tons of food, including beans, oil, rice and wheat flour, for Iraq's most vulnerable populations. This food, when it's shipped and gets there, will feed 2 million Iraqis for three months."

He added: "We're continuing to work on these efforts to obtain and ship food supplies and to try to make sure that there is a continuing flow for what's needed in the weeks and months ahead."

Boucher said the United States also plans to resume the "Oil-for-Food" program as quickly as possible in a post-conflict period and is engaged in discussions at the United Nations with the Security Council as to how to "reconstitute and re-authorize this program in the new environment that will exist."

"The numbers say that something like 90 percent of the Iraqi people receive something through this program and 60 percent of the Iraqis are totally dependent on these food rations," the spokesman said.

Regarding the ongoing effort to free Iraq, Boucher noted that the Turkish parliament has approved the U.S. request for overflight permission. "We think this shows a desire of Turkey to support coalition efforts, and we welcome that effort," he said.

Boucher said that the United States, through its diplomatic missions overseas, "has made a formal request to those countries in which the Iraqis have a diplomatic presence to suspend Iraq's diplomatic presence in country on a temporary basis. We've also asked them to take steps to assure the prompt departure of the leading representatives of Saddam Hussein's regime."

The government of Saddam Hussein, he said, "has failed in so many ways that it's time for others to recognize that by not allowing their representatives to continue to pretend to represent the Iraqi people."

"Our expectation," Boucher said, "is that once an interim Iraqi authority is in place, it will name interim replacement representatives and diplomatic missions that can reopen and truly represent the interests of the Iraqi people rather than represent a corrupt and ruthless regime."

Until then, however, the United States is requesting that all countries "take every possible step to respect and protect Iraqi diplomatic property and prevent the destruction of mission records and to ensure that in-country bank accounts belonging to the Iraqi government are frozen," he said. "Such a move will be critical to ensuring that any embezzlement of funds or damage to assets that rightfully belong to the Iraqi people does not occur.

"We are also looking at the possibility of third countries providing basic consular services for Iraqi nationals in these countries to minimize any impact on average Iraqi citizens. We deeply appreciate the assistance these countries can provide in this regard."

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)