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[casi] Iraq Aid Conundrum/US threatens UN General Assembly member

Aid Conundrum

by Phyllis Bennis; March 28, 2003

The UN Security Council is likely to vote tomorrow (28 March) on a
resolution outlining how emergency humanitarian aid will be provided to Iraqis.

The U.S.-UK are pushing for a new Security Council resolution that would

(1) identify the U.S. as one of the "relevant authorities" in Iraq;

(2) call for use of Iraq's oil-for-food funds to pay for emergency relief
and rehabilitation;

(3) call on the UN to re-start the oil-for-food program and "endorse" the
U.S. aid effort in order to facilitate other countries' participation in
(read: payment for) the aid campaign

The Humanitarian Challenge:

Make sure emergency assistance and general relief reaches desperate Iraqi
civilians AND make sure the U.S. takes responsibility for its obligations
under international law AND make sure the U.S. doesn't get
credit/legitimation for its illegal war AND make sure the United Nations
isn't marginalized but remains at the international center of
decision-making in the Iraq crisis. All at the same time.

The Scenario:

There is a generalized intimidation campaign underway at the UN, and many
countries are too frightened to challenge U.S. demands. Examples of the
pressure include:

U.S. letters -

In a move which may have been used against many other countries as well,
the U.S. ambassador to South Africa sent a letter to the deputy foreign
minister explicitly demanding that South Africa (and perhaps other
countries) not participate in or support any effort to call to convene an
emergency General Assembly meeting on the Iraq war. The language was
harshly threatening: "Given the current highly charged atmosphere, the
United States would regard a General Assembly session on Iraq as unhelpful
and as directed against the United States. Please know that this question
as well as your position on it is important to the U.S."

Attack on Canada -

  In a similar move, the U.S. ambassador attacked Canada for not supporting
the war. Amb. Paul Celluci acknowledged that "Canadian naval vessels,
aircraft and personnel in the Persian Gulf …who are fighting terrorism will
provide more support indirectly to this war in Iraq than most of the 46
countries that are fully [sic] supportive of our efforts there. But he went
on to say "many in the United States are disappointed and upset that Canada
is not fully supporting us now." The ambassador said the damage would be
short-term, but "Canada might face repercussions."

Powell statements -

  In the 26 March congressional hearing, Rep. Vitter challenged Powell
about the potential UN role. "It seems to me it's one thing for there to be
a future UN resolution about a role for the UN, particularly humanitarian.
But it would be another thing for the UN resolution to lay out some road
map for post-war Iraq in such a way that it [the UN] would basically grab
that decision-making and control from the coalition.… Can you give us some
assurance that whatever UN resolutions are in the future will not do that?"
Powell replied "I don't even see a possibility of that right now. … We
would not support …essentially handing everything over to the UN, for
someone designated by the UN to suddenly become in charge of this whole

The Issues:

Should oil-for-food funds be released and used to pay for emergency supplies?

  No -- international law, specifically Geneva Conventions, requires
belligerent --and occupying power -- to take responsibility (meaning pay)
for humanitarian needs of civilian population under occupation. Currently
that includes most of Iraq. The oil-for-food money is Iraqi money; it
belongs to the people of Iraq, and should remain in the bank until there is
a functioning government in Iraq to whom it can be turned over.

2) Then how should emergency food, medicine, other needs be paid for? The
U.S., the occupying power and belligerent, should pay all costs for
emergency care and initial rehabilitation efforts, at least during period
while hostilities continue.

3) Why should poor and working people in the U.S. support their tax dollars
being used to pay for rebuilding schools, roads, hospitals destroyed by the
U.S. in Iraq, when those things are also crumbling in U.S. cities? They
shouldn't. The program should be funded through a special 50% Excess
Profit/ Windfall for War tax on all contracts offered to U.S. corporations
(Bechtel, Halliburton, etc.) for rebuilding post-war Iraq.

4) How should the provision of food, medicine, shelter, refugee assistance,
etc. be organized and provided? The UN and UN agencies (WFP, UNICEF, WHO,
UNHCR, etc.) should organize and provide the aid, paying for it with U.S.
funds. The actual work of procurement and distribution should be carried
out, as much as possible, by the Iraqi civil servants who ran the
oil-for-food program until March 2003. There should be a clear demand on
the U.S. (beyond the overall demand to stop the war and withdraw the troops
now) to protect and maintain the Iraqi technocratic civil service in much
the same way the Pentagon talks about maintaining the bulk of the Iraqi
military that survives the war in order to maintain order later. While the
debate continues on the large-scale aid program needed, there is no
question regarding sole U.S.-UK responsibility for immediate urgent crisis
demands, such as restoring water access in Basra. While the ICRC may have
had the operational staff to get the water facilities up and pumping again
there, it remains Washington and London who are ultimately solely
responsible for the consequences of either short-term or near- permanent

5) What is the UN position? UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has repeatedly
affirmed that the "belligerent powers" occupying Iraq are responsible for
the wellbeing of its people. He has not, however, specifically stated that
releasing the oil-for-food funds from the UN-controlled bank account would
constitute a violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions that
put the obligation directly on the U.S. (The oil-for-food funds belong to
Iraq; they should remain frozen until a functioning independent government
is in power in Baghdad, and then those funds should be turned back over to

  Annan did announce a new appeal from the UN's humanitarian agencies to
raise $2.1 billion for humanitarian aid ($1.2 billion of which is for
food); he specifically called for new aid to be pledged without
disadvantaging donors' other commitments to other impoverished countries.
At the same time, UN circles expressed skepticism about the willingness of
many countries to give money, indicating that donations might be limited
because many countries believe paying for aid is primarily the task of the
U.S. and UK. UN agencies indicated that this war will require humanitarian
help far beyond the capacity of the oil-for-food program, because there
will be no way to anticipate how many wounded, how many will have fled from
villages or cities, how many will have no access to food, water,
sanitation, other basic commodities. In a difficult meeting with Kofi
Annan, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice essentially claimed
the right to issue a dictat for the role of the UN in post-war Iraq. Annan
indicated he did not believe the UN should be co-opted into providing the
U.S. with ex post facto legitimation for its illegal war.

6) What is the U.S. position? The Bush administration has been trumpeting
its provision of some limited aid (food and water primarily) to some parts
of Iraq, but has refused to acknowledge its absolute legal obligation under
the Geneva Conventions to provide for the full humanitarian needs of the
Iraqi population. They have urged the UN to release Iraq's oil-for-food
funds to begin larger- scale emergency aid, and have also been urging an
official UN endorsement of the U.S. war, perhaps in the form of some sort
of a recognition of the U.S. as one of the legitimate authorities. Colin
Powell described insuring that "the UN has a role to play. If we want to
get help from other nations, and we ask these nations to go get funds from
their parliaments or their legislatures, it makes it a lot easier for them
to get those funds and to contribute those funds to the
reconstruction/redevelopment effort if it has an international standing, if
I can put it that way, as opposed to 'just give us money to give to the
Americans.' That will not work. And so there are a number of advantages to
having a UN role in this effort." But the U.S. remains very clear that
while it expected international financial support to cover its own
humanitarian obligations, it has no intention of sharing actual authority,
power, or decision-making with anyone. BBC World quoted a high-ranking Bush
administration official who was asked whether France should have a role.
Referring to France's alleged "anti-americanism," the official said "if
they want to participate, they can pick up the garbage." And in his 26
March testimony in Congress, Powell made clear that "we didn't take on this
huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have significant,
dominating control over how it unfolds in the future."

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