Iraq

US DOS: Biden says UN flag needed for Iraq reconstruction

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Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat from Delaware), the highest-ranking minority party member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stressed the importance of U.N. involvement in the rebuilding of Iraq in the event of a conflict with that country.

"Acting under a U.N. flag, as opposed to a U.S. flag, will minimize resentment from malcontents in the region and beyond," Biden said in March 11 remarks during a hearing on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in Iraq. "The benefits of working with the international community cannot be overstated."

According to Biden, reconstruction will require "billions of dollars and tens of thousands of personnel over several years." The U.S. military "is not prepositioning enough supplies to handle a major crisis without the help of the U.N.," he added.

Biden said that failure to provide humanitarian assistance and implement a reconstruction program in Iraq would "constitute a failure to meet our moral responsibility."

"True victory will be measured by our successes away from the battlefield," he said.

The United Nations has estimated that 10 million Iraqis could run out of food within six weeks after war, Biden said. In addition, he added, conflict could internally displace two million people and create over one million refugees.

Following is the text of Biden's opening remarks at the March 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

(begin transcript)

Opening Remarks
U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Hearing on Humanitarian Assistance and Reconstruction in Iraq
Senate Foreign Relations Committee

March 11, 2003

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this timely hearing on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in Iraq.

As war looks increasingly likely, it is vital that the United States take every possible step to mitigate the suffering of innocent people.

And while it is clear that, if war comes, we will prevail, true victory will be, measured by our successes away from the battlefield.

Our efforts to build a free, stable, and representative Iraq will be bolstered by the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and the implementation of a comprehensive reconstruction program. Failure to achieve these goals will harm our regional interests and undermine our credibility. And it would constitute a failure to meet our moral responsibility.

In the event of conflict, the United Nations has predicted that 10 million Iraqis could run out of food within six weeks. And that there could be upwards of 2 million internally displaced persons and over 1 million refugees.

Although the Administration hopes that the United Nations will lead these efforts, coalition forces must be prepared to deliver humanitarian assistance in conflict zones, and in areas where Saddam might use his weapons of mass destruction.

I hope to hear otherwise today, but to my knowledge, the US military is not prepositioning enough supplies to handle a major crisis without the help of the UN. I also am disappointed that the Administration has not taken more seriously the need to protect Iraqi civilians from possible chemical and biological weapons attacks, an issue I have raised repeatedly with the Administration since my visit to Northern Iraq with Senator Hagel last December.

And, Mr. Chairman, if we are to rely on the United Nations, we must ensure that its agencies get the support they need and that their non-governmental partners have the time and money to prepare for a crisis. Thus far, the UN's humanitarian bodies remain sorely underfunded and the NGOs have received less than $1 million from the US government.

I was particularly troubled last week when the UN's top humanitarian official in Iraq said that US and UN preparations, even given a relatively short conflict of 3 to 4 months, were "grossly inadequate."

No matter how optimistic we are, we must be prepared for a worst-case scenario in which there is protracted urban warfare, the use of chemical or biological weapons, and the complete breakdown of the Oil for Food program... I worry that the Administration may not be preparing for a crisis of this magnitude.

Mr. Chairman, this brings me to my last point: The benefits of working with the international community cannot be overstated.

The United States will be in a far better position if we can provide humanitarian assistance and rebuild Iraq in cooperation with the United Nations and other countries.

These efforts will require billions of dollars and tens of thousands of personnel over several years.

It is profoundly in our interest to share what will be a massive burden. And acting under a UN flag, as opposed to a US flag, will minimize resentment from malcontents in the region and beyond.

Securing a second Security Council resolution would be enormously helpful in bringing others on board for the take-off and for the landing.

So, Mr. Chairman, I hope we are prepared to step up our preparations to meet the humanitarian needs of all Iraqis. I also hope that we will provide the UN with the funds necessary to do their part.

I thank the Chair.

(end transcript)

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