- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) — The White House on Tuesday said the United States was providing $105 million to international aid agencies to help Iraqis secure food, water and medical aid as coalition forces continue their effort to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The administration's move to provide assistance for civilians caught in the war zone is similar to efforts to provide help during the conflict in Afghanistan, a so-called "butter and bullets" campaign.

The World Food Program would receive $60 million of the total, while $21 million would go to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, $10 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross and $8 million to the International Organization of Migration, the White House said.

"We have deployed approximately 3 million humanitarian daily rations in Kuwait and other locations to meet emergency food needs. This is the largest number of HDRs, or humanitarian daily rations, ever forward-deployed for contingency use," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

The Bush administration said it was deploying a 62-person civilian disaster response team to assess the needs of the people and coordinate humanitarian efforts as it also provides 610,000 metric tons of food worth some $300 million.

Problems moving humanitarian assistance into the region have surfaced. Umm Qasr, the only seaport along Iraq's southern coast, was under the control of regime forces until Wednesday. Fleischer said that coalition forces seized the port, which would be the gateway for food and other relief items.

"Coalition forces are currently sweeping the port for mines, a necessary prelude to allow incoming humanitarian traffic. Two Iraqi tugboats carrying mines have already been interdicted. This is a major step in providing humanitarian aid and resuming ration distributions to the Iraqi people," Fleischer said.

A British vessel, the Sir Galahad, stocked with food and approximately 1,500 tons of water, was ready to dock, he said. The Australians sent two ships, each filled with 50,000 tons of wheat, which were standing by, waiting to unload.

Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, was the site of a reported local uprising against Saddam's regime. Humanitarian groups had been waiting to get access to the city, which was having a severe water shortage.

Fleischer said that as of Wednesday, 40 percent of the water supply had been restored.

The UNHCR reported that the Russian aid agency EMERCON had sent four planes filled with emergency supplies including tents, stoves, generators, water filters, blankets and dried food to a warehouse in Kermanshah, Iran.

On Monday, the U.N. agency said that its first batch of relief items — about 8,000 mattresses — arrived at the Turkish Red Crescent Society's warehouse in the Turkish border town of Siloni.

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