EU says examining Iraq's aid needs in case of war

BRUSSELS, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The European Union is examining Iraq's need for humanitarian relief in case of a U.S.-led strike against Baghdad but does not see war as a foregone conclusion, the EU's top aid official said on Monday.

"The U.N. system, the Red Cross and ourselves and other donors are going through studies and analysis right now, looking at possibilities of pre-positioning stocks," said European Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Poul Nielson.

"This is a normal, professional, cautious way of trying to avoid things getting out of control," he told a news conference.

The 15-nation European Union is one of the main aid donors to Iraq and has provided the country with 157 million euros ($169 million) for relief and emergency aid since 1992.

Nielson did not disclose any details of the scenarios the EU was studying, saying he wanted to avoid giving the impression that a war was inevitable -- while ensuring that the neutrality of EU relief remained intact.

"I really think it is best to keep these preparatory actions and these analyses as a discreet activity in order not to feed into the process anything that would indicate that it is a foregone conclusion that there will be a conflict," he said.

"And also for the reason of maintaining a strict separation between military action and the role of humanitarian aid."

In 2002, the EU spent 13 million euros on water sanitation, medical facilities and support for polio and measles vaccination campaigns for 3.5 million Iraqi children.

Last week aid agencies said they were rushing experts and life-saving supplies to the region but needed more money to complete the task. The United Nations World Food Programme said it planned to feed almost a million people in the first few months of any war in Iraq.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has forecast that in the event of conflict, 600,000 Iraqis could flee abroad, with about half going to Iran, and the rest to Turkey, Syria and Jordan.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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