Iraq

U.N. pushes war relief in Iraq into high gear

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By J.T. Nguyen

New York (dpa) - With the prospect of war with Iraq looming ever larger, the United Nations is readying plans to assist the Iraqi people in the event the United States strikes.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is to meet Thursday with all 15 members of the Security Council to discuss for the first time the humanitarian contingency plans his aides have been preparing over the past months while the United States is building up its forces in the Gulf region.

The meeting will take place in Annan's office at U.N. headquarters in New York. His aides said the meeting, called by Annan himself, will be informal.

"While the secretary general thinks that war is not inevitable, he thinks that he should share the status of U.N. contingency plans with the council at this stage,'' a spokesman said.

Annan's deputy secretary general, Louise Frechette, has been putting together the plans after discussions with U.N. humanitarian agencies aimed at a maximum coordination to help the Iraqis in the event of war.

While the United Nations prepares for a humanitarian crisis, U.S. Army General Tommy Franks, chief of the U.S. Central Command, who would direct any war in Iraq, said the U.S. military is set to provide food and medicine to the Iraqis on the first day of a war.

"Humanitarian supplies are being positioned in order to address this sort of an issue,'' Franks said in an interview published by The New York Times Tuesday.

Franks said that in some cases, the military will give the relief supplies directly to the Iraqi people and, in others, through civilian organizations. He said the United States wants to be seen as a liberator and not as an occupation army.

U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has been calling for regime change and a new democratic government in Baghdad. It is planning a military occupation of the country to achieve that goal after overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime.

But organizations like Refugees International and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have complained that they have not been called to discuss the U.S. humanitarian plans in Iraq.

"We have been trying for five or six months now to get information from the U.S. military about what type of humanitarian activities they are planning to do in Iraq,'' said Sandra Mitchell, IRC's vice president. "We are not coordinating any planning with the military.''

U.N. agencies started discussing the effects of the war on the Iraqis back in December. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva estimated that as many as 600,000 Iraqis could flee into neighbouring countries and hundreds of thousands others could be displaced internally. It said those refugees need immediate assistance and has appealed to governments to donate 37 million dollars to prepare for such a humanitarian emergency.

The United States alone has donated 15 million dollars of the 37-million-dollar appeal. But the agency said it has already spent 19 million dollars from an emergency reserve fund to prepare for a refugee crisis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that as many as 500,000 Iraqis could suffer injuries in a war and would need medical treatment. The estimate was contained in a document named "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios'', which also warned that a large number of Iraqis could also be emotionally traumatized as well.

WHO also warned that millions of Iraqis could be threatened by malnutrition and diseases if war destroys the country's infrastructure, such as electrical power plants and oil installations. It said such destruction could be worse than in the 1991 Gulf War, when the U.S. led a coalition to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

Non-governmental organizations said up to 60 per cent of Iraq's 25 million people now depend on food and medicine provided by the United Nations under the oil-for-food programme, which uses Iraqi oil revenues to buy essential humanitarian goods. And a war in Iraq would disrupt oil exports and curtail food distribution under the oil-for-food plan.

The U.N. Development Programme, which deals with development projects, has estimated that it would cost 30 billion dollars in post-war reconstruction in Iraq in the first three months alone.

The United Nations said Iraq, once a thriving oil-rich nation, now has an annual per-capita income of about 700 dollars after more than 12 years of U.N. sanctions. It said Iraq also owes 60 billion dollars in official debt and 170 billion dollars in unpaid reparations for the destruction in Kuwait and its oil wells.

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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 02/11/2003 18:24:52

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