- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

BAGHDAD A rift between international aid organizations and the U.S.-led military coalition has limited major humanitarian relief efforts to the southernmost areas of Iraq more than two weeks after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime and the fall of Baghdad.
Dozens of groups, representing relief agencies of the United Nations and private nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), came to Kuwait before the war, planning to move rapidly across the border into southern Iraq and then move north toward Baghdad and other population centers.
But with Iraqi people in the capital and large cities such as Najaf, Karbala and Kut still not receiving the postwar aid they expected, the coalition and relief agencies are blaming each other.
The humanitarian groups say the military barred their entry into Iraq from Kuwait until about 10 days ago because of security concerns about the south. The groups quoted the military as saying that it was still too dangerous for civilian operations there.
"Initially, they physically barred us from moving into Iraq and did not issue the passes we needed to cross. Since then, they have continued to declare other places [in the north] 'not permissive,'" said Cassandra Nelson, the spokeswoman in Kuwait for international aid agency Mercy Corps.
Declaring an area "not permissive" means it is considered dangerous to work there without military protection. Many private aid agencies have refused such protection to preserve their neutrality.
Aid groups also say they suspect favoritism regarding the relief aid that has been approved by the coalition.
While not allowing U.N. and NGO groups to fly their material to Iraq, the coalition is granting flight permission to Kuwaiti government aid planes to land in Baghdad.
Arab Times, an English daily in Kuwait, reported during the weekend that a Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society plane carrying 10 tons of relief material had landed at Baghdad's international airport Saturday.
"We understand that Kuwait has been very helpful to the coalition and that the United States and the United Kingdom would like to show their appreciation. But there is a serious concern among many of us that the coalition is in effect blocking any contribution by the U.N. and NGOs only so that Kuwait and the coalition countries get the credit for any help the Iraqi people receive," said one official of an American NGO.
"We understand politics, but this is dirty politics," another aid official said.
But the military says the aid agencies want to have their cake and eat it, too.
"On the one hand, they don't want to have anything to do with us because they say they don't work for us and do not take orders from us. On the other hand, they want us to go into the cities and create a complete secure environment so they can come in and work. Do we work for them?" asked a U.S. Army officer in Kuwait who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Large convoys of aid have been shipped into Iraq in recent days from Kuwait, Syria and Turkey, including supplies from UNICEF and other U.N. agencies.
Part of the relief agencies' frustration is that the nature of the aid needed has changed from what they had planned for.
"We expected our biggest problems would be refugees and issues related to that. But to everyone's surprise, and maybe relief, there is no refugee crisis," one aid official said.
According to a report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there are a few thousand Iraqi refugees in Syria, Iran and Jordan, in contrast to hundreds of thousands who fled in the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
The humanitarian groups say they have prepared planeloads of medicine, food and other supplies, but the U.S. military has not given them clearance to fly to Baghdad.
"We have had planes ready to take in supplies for days and days. Finally on Thursday, when the authorization still had not come, we decided to abandon the plan and are now looking for ways to send the material overland, which is riskier and will take longer," said Kim Buldoc, the Kuwait representative of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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