U.S. plans to help Iraqis after war
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration has been working for months to develop a plan for humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people in the event of war, according to U.S. officials.
But some civilian relief agencies -- those expected to play an important role in that effort -- said that they have been left out of the advance planning.
The United States expects to provide an estimated 2 million Iraqi refugees with food, medicine and other supplies. Already, more than 750,000 refugees have fled Iraq, and about 800,000 people have been displaced from their homes, according to Elliot Abrams, special assistant to the president, who deals with issues relating to the rebuilding of Iraq.
"We recognize that military action in Iraq, if necessary, will have adverse humanitarian consequences," Abrams said at a news conference Monday. "We have been planning over the last several months, across all relevant agencies, to limit any such consequences and provide relief quickly."
Abrams said the U.S. military plan was "carefully tailored" to limit the displacement of Iraqi civilians and damage to the country's infrastructure in hopes of minimizing the humanitarian crisis.
The Pentagon has set up the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance to coordinate the relief effort, and troops will help relief workers reach civilians who need help, but Abrams said international and civilian humanitarian groups will distribute most of the aid.
Groups fear preparedness
The United States plans to ease restrictions that blocked American citizens from working in Iraq and to provide funding and civilian expertise. So far, $26.5 million already has been spent on the relief effort, and another $52 million is on its way, U.S. officials said.
"American-based NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] have not had access to Iraq until recently, and there is now a fast-track process under way," said George Rupp, president of the International Rescue Committee.
"The result is that we are less prepared than we would like to be for what could be a very serious humanitarian emergency."
InterAction, the American Council for Voluntary International Action -- an alliance of humanitarian groups -- issued a statement this month urging the Bush administration to move faster.
"We are greatly concerned about the state of preparedness for the humanitarian response in Iraq," the group said. "We are left with the impression that the U.S. government may be unprepared to mount an adequate response to meet the relief and reconstruction needs of a country in which 60 percent of the people already rely on international donations to live."
Other groups have said they were left out of the planning process.
"Weeks have gone by with no coordination whatsoever, which has made it very difficult for the humanitarian relief organizations to get organized, to figure out exactly what they should be doing to maximum humanitarian advantage," said Refugees International President Ken Bacon.
InterAction also argued that putting the relief effort under military control "flies in the face of humanitarian principles." It warned that aid workers in other parts of the world could be put in danger if they are seen as being involved in the U.S. military effort and that donors may be less willing to provide support.
U.S. stockpiling supplies
Andrew Natsios, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), took issue with criticism by relief agencies that the United States has not done enough in advance of a possible war.
Natsios said that Washington has been coordinating its efforts for months with relief agencies and that relief officials "all know well there has been massive propositioning" of supplies and extensive humanitarian planning.
Officials have said that the United States already has started stockpiling blankets, water, medicine and other supplies for shelter for about 1 million people, much of which is en route to the Persian Gulf region. The United States is also pre-positioning almost 3 million daily food rations.
USAID is training and preparing a 60-person Disaster Assistance Response Team to enter liberated areas of Iraq in coordination with the military to assess need, deliver aid and offer grants to humanitarian groups. These representatives soon will be based in Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan and Qatar.
When asked if the humanitarian efforts were a political ploy to gain favor with Iraqis and others in the region, Abrams said that President Bush insisted "from the outset" that a large humanitarian program should accompany any military action aimed at eliminating Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, just as such aid accompanied military action to oust the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan.
But he added, "Clearly the better we can do in this humanitarian effort, the better off the Iraqi people will be, and more quickly they will come to see this intervention by coalition forces as having changed and improved their lives.
"So there is no way of avoiding the fact that the better we do at it, the more positive a political impact it will have inside Iraq and inside the region ... but the purpose of doing it is humanitarian."
CNN Correspondents Barbara Starr, Jamie McIntyre and Dana Bash and Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.