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War in Iraq: Managing Humanitarian Relief


The impassioned controversy that surrounded the decision to invade Iraq had the unfortunate consequence of impeding coordination of humanitarian relief operations. Now that the war has begun, it is important to deal with the urgent task of meeting the needs of the Iraqi people. That will require steps by those who were opposed to the war, in particular European governments and NGOs, to agree to work in close coordination with the United States and put their plans and their funding on the table. And it will require steps by the United States to eschew a dominant role in the post-conflict humanitarian effort and hand it over to the United Nations.

The scale of the humanitarian consequences of the war in Iraq is still unclear. But regardless of the war’s intensity or duration, there are bound to be new tragedies – to add to the devastation of Iraq’s economy and social fabric already caused by two earlier wars, twelve years of sanctions and an authoritarian government far more intent on its survival than on the well-being of its people.

Largely as a result of the political controversy and uncertainty that preceded the war, planning and preparations for relief efforts have been plagued by inadequate coordination. Today, the fears are of inadequate funding, excessive U.S. control over the relief effort and, within that, the unfortunate appearance (if not reality) of military preeminence, and the exclusion of European and other international NGOs that have considerable on-the-ground experience and of the Iraqi institutions with which they worked.

It is too late to undo the damage that already has been done. It is not too late to minimise its impact and put the longer-term reconstruction effort on the right track – as a multinational effort under the UN’s authority. Humanitarian cooperation also is a good place at which to start rebuilding both ties that have been frayed by the prior diplomatic battle and the credibility of essential institutions, like the UN, that suffered in the process. All sides will have to do their part.

A UN-led humanitarian effort, working in close coordination with the U.S., with other governments and international NGOs and, crucially, with the numerous capable Iraqi groups and institutions, is the optimal way to proceed if the rebuilding of Iraq is to get off to a proper start.


To the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and other coalition countries:

1. Ensure and facilitate to the fullest extent possible provision of food and medical supplies to the population in the territories under their control, in accordance with their public commitments and obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

2. Agree to hand over coordination of humanitarian operations in Iraq to the UN as soon as possible

3. Provide non-discriminatory access for international relief agencies to Iraqis in need of humanitarian assistance as soon as possible, and consistent with legitimate security concerns.

4. Work with Iraq’s neighbours on efforts to address the potential refugee crisis and offer financial and trade compensation for financial costs they will incur.

5. Transfer all seized Iraqi assets to the UN-controlled escrow account for payment of humanitarian relief and salaries of Iraqi civil servants and aid workers.

To the United States Government, the international donor community and humanitarian relief agencies:

6. Help fund humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq, regardless of and separate from their stance on the legitimacy of military intervention.

7. In providing funding to NGOs, make efforts to include those that have experience in Iraq and have already established a working relationship with appropriate Iraqi counterparts and implementing agents.

8. Recognise the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) as the principal relief coordinator in Iraq and, in particular

(a) facilitate its presence in Iraq as soon as security conditions permit;

(b) provide it with a full and detailed inventory of relief capabilities, available resources and data relevant to the humanitarian situation in Iraq; and

(c) brief the coordinator regularly on developments and needs arising from the evolving situation on the ground;

9. Support the Secretary General's anticipated U.S. $2.2 billion "flash appeal" for overall UN humanitarian activities in Iraq.

To the UN Security Council:

10. Adopt a resolution amending the Oil-for-Food program and the current sanctions regime against Iraq to:

(a) authorise the UN Secretary General to prioritise Iraq’s humanitarian needs and purchase the needed supplies;

(b) reduce significantly the number of dual-use items on the Goods Review List with no immediate military use such as heavy vehicles, pumps, respirators and various medicines;

(c) establish a direct cash component to finance locally provided goods and services, make these funds available to the UN office of the Oil-for-Food program, and abolish the current prohibition on purchasing locally produced goods;

(d) make additional revenues available for the adjusted Oil-for-Food program by temporarily freezing payments on war reparations and releasing existing funds in the accounts of the UN Compensation Commission, until a complete revision of the program is possible; and

(e) authorise the transfer of all Iraqi assets frozen in international bank accounts to the U.N.-controlled escrow account for paying of humanitarian relief and salaries of Iraqi civil servants and aid workers.

To the UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs:

11. Assuming it is put in charge of humanitarian relief operations, make maximum use of local humanitarian capabilities in terms of qualified personnel and infrastructure.

To the governments of Iran, Turkey and Arab neighbouring countries:

12. Provide international relief organisations with access to displaced Iraqis living in camps in areas along their border with Iraq and make possible the transportation of humanitarian goods and personnel.

13. Be prepared to open borders should Iraqis need to escape a humanitarian emergency or military attack

14. Allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to participate in the screening process for any Iraqi who crosses into their country.

15. Ensure that repatriation schemes are initiated in coordination with UNHCR and only if and when it is determined that the situation in Iraq makes such repatriation safe.

Amman/Brussels, 27 March 2003


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