The crowds in the captured Iraqi port town of Umm Qasr mobbed the
two British water tanker trucks. "Not enough, please! We need a good
water supply," one man told British officers.
The chaotic scene Wednesday, the same day crowds of Iraqis
swarmed food-laden Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society trucks in a nearby
town, has aid workers worried about obstacles facing what is being
billed as the largest humanitarian relief operation in history.
As the US, the United Nations and independent organizations gear
up to provide relief, aid workers are growing increasingly
frustrated by their inability to reach Iraqi civilians who might
At the same time, aid workers in the region and governments that
opposed the war are voicing fears that Washington is seeking to
control the assistance program to serve its political aim of
appearing as a 'liberator' of Iraq.
Nobody is thought to be in immediate danger of starving in Iraq.
The Iraqi government recently authorized double rations, which
should see most citizens through until the end of April. But with 60
percent of the population dependent entirely on rations distributed
under the UN "Oil for Food" program, suspended since the outbreak of
hostilities, the prospect of a protracted war is heightening fears
of a disaster.
The UN escrow account, holding money to be spent on food that was
earned by Iraqi oil exports, holds $8 billion, but France and Russia
are refusing to give Washington control of those funds, and
resisting any resumption of the oil-for-food program that could be
construed as a UN endorsement of the war.
Under the Geneva Conventions, Russia and France argue, the
occupying force is responsible for providing humanitarian goods to
sustain the population.
Thursday, meeting in Camp David, President Bush and British Prime
Minister Tony Blair called on the UN to immediately resume the oil-
"This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized. The
Security Council should give Secretary-General Kofi Annan the
authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of
assistance," Bush said after meeting with his closest ally.
Though advance columns of US troops are only 50 miles from
Baghdad, no humanitarian workers have got further than Umm Qasr, 300
miles to the rear, on the Kuwaiti border.
"We don't operate in a combat environment," says Donald Tighe,
spokesman for USAID's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in
Kuwait, whose experts will spearhead relief efforts. "We have begun
the assessment process in areas declared secure by the military," so
far limited to Umm Qasr.
With fighting still under way in Basra, Iraq's second-largest
city, and irregular Iraqi forces roaming the countryside along the
roads to Baghdad, only the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) has been able to function. Iraqi ICRC employees this week
repaired a water pumping station in Basra.
Danger has also held up the arrival of hundreds of thousands of
tons of food that are sitting in warehouses in Gulf countries. …