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Humanitarian Assistance Preparations for Iraq

“[A]s we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies -- and freedom.” – President Bush, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003

Today the humanitarian situation in Iraq is tenuous. More than 750,000 refugees have fled Iraq, and there are approximately 800,000 people displaced from their homes within the country.

President Bush has repeatedly stressed his hope that the Iraq regime will peacefully disarm. We recognize that military action in Iraq, if necessary, would have adverse humanitarian consequences. Many of those consequences could result from Saddam’s actions. Destructive acts by Saddam, including co-location of military assets with civilians, targeting of civilians, encouragement of ethnic violence, destruction of the infrastructure, and WMD use, would increase the suffering of Iraq’s people and make the provision of relief much harder. We have been planning over the last several months, across all relevant agencies, to limit any such consequences and provide relief quickly.

Our humanitarian relief strategy has six key components:

1. Minimize displacement, damage to the infrastructure, and disruption of services

The U.S. Government (USG) recognizes the extent to which Iraqi civilians rely on infrastructure for vital services. We are therefore identifying key humanitarian infrastructure and cultural sites for protection to the extent possible. Military campaign planning for the liberation of Iraq is carefully tailored to minimize impact on civilian populations. In addition, we hope to discourage population displacement through an information campaign that will reassure those populations not at risk that they are safe in their homes. We will also work to promptly provide aid and rapidly restore services.

2. Rely Primarily on Civilian Relief Agencies

The USG is coordinating and planning across all relevant agencies for relief and reconstruction in Iraq, with civilian agencies and personnel in the lead. We recognize the expertise and capacity of the United Nations, other international organizations, and NGOs in humanitarian relief operations, and we plan to support them -- facilitating and funding their efforts -- to the greatest extent possible. USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration have been meeting with representatives of the international aid community for several months.

UN agencies often play a key role providing and coordinating humanitarian aid during crises. We welcome UN plans to have their operational agencies play a similar role in Iraq, and want to work with UN agencies to support and facilitate their activities.

The US military does not have a lead role in humanitarian relief activities, but will facilitate early secure access, humanitarian space, and information for USG civilian teams and civilian relief agencies to fulfill their humanitarian mandates.

3. Effective Civil-Military Coordination

The USG is training and preparing a 60-person civilian Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), the largest of its kind in US history, that would enter liberated areas of Iraq in coordination with military forces to assess humanitarian needs, coordinate USG relief actions, offer immediate in-the-field grant making capacity and coordination with international organizations, NGOs, donors and military. The DART, made up of humanitarian emergency professionals from civilian government agencies, will soon have representatives in Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan and Qatar. These are being established with the cooperation of governments in the region.

4. Facilitating the Operations of International Organizations and NGOs We will provide civilian experts as liaisons with international organizations and NGOs. These experts will support and staff various civil-military coordination centers to facilitate humanitarian efforts through the sharing of critical information regarding access, security, and populations in need.

In order to expedite the issuance of licenses to NGOs so they may operate inside Iraq, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control is streamlining licensing procedures. State and USAID now have blanket licenses that cover agencies receiving grants from them. NGOs working in areas not controlled by the Government of Iraq or those conducting only assessments in the country will have an expedited registration process.

We have provided funding to relief agencies to support their efforts to plan, hire staff, and preposition supplies:

  • The State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration has provided over $15 million to international agencies for prepositioning and contingency planning requirements, including $15 million to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and $100,000 to the International Organization for Migration.

  • USAID has provided $9.2 million for contingency planning, including $900,000 to a newly created Joint NGO Emergency Preparedness Initiative, $2 million to UNICEF, $1.2 million to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), $5 million to the World Food Program, and $200,000 to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). USAID is in discussions with international organizations to provide an additional $56 million soon for relief and rehabilitation.

    In addition to U.S. contributions, we are encouraging other donors to contribute to these critical efforts to provide assistance to the Iraqi people.

    5. Pre-position Relief Supplies

    We are stockpiling blankets, water containers, shelter supplies, World Health Organization essential medicines and other relief items for 1 million people worth approximately $17.3 million. Much of these stockpiles are being forward-deployed to the region. The USG currently has 46 40-foot containers of relief supplies en route to 3 warehouses in the Gulf. The USG is also stockpiling and pre-positioning up to 2.89 million Humanitarian Daily Rations to be used to meet limited and temporary emergency food needs.

    6. Support the Resumption of the Ration Distribution System

    Almost all Iraqis get rations from the Oil-For-Food ration distribution system, and 60 percent rely on the rations as their sole source of food. A tremendous effort is being made to minimize disruption to this system. We recognize the importance of the rations to Iraqis and will support efforts to maintain the ration system.

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