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After War, What Next?

After War, What Next?Extensive humanitarian aid must be provided to the Iraqi people, who are already facing a challenging road to survival, says a Tufts expert. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.18.03] As dawn broke in Baghdad, the first strikes of a long-planned military invasion rocked the city's outer limits. War - which President George W. Bush described as a campaign to free the Iraqi people - had begun. But a Tufts expert warns that unless extensive humanitarian aid is provided to the Iraqi people, the United States could undermine its long-term objectives.

› President Bush: "These are the opening stages..." [ watch ]

"It would be nave to expect the policy of the United States ... to be shaped exclusively by humanitarian considerations," Larry Minear - director of Tufts' Humanitarianism and War Project at the Alan Shawn Feinstein International Famine Center - wrote in the International Herald Tribune. "In this particular instance, however, gains in bringing democracy to Iraq and the Middle East require immediate and durable improvements in the health and well-being of ordinary Iraqis."

It's a topic the Tufts expert knows well.

In February, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation requested Minear and colleague Peter Walker, director of the Feinstein International Famine Center, help facilitate a weekend conference on the humanitarian consequences of a possible war in Iraq.

The conference brought together representatives of all the states surrounding Iraq, almost all the main donor states, the main UN agencies, the Red Cross system and most of the major non-governmental organization (NGO) coalitions to discuss and plan for everything from large waves of refugees to emergency food aid operations.

According to Minear -- and instructor at Tufts' Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy -- the people of Iraq are already particularly vulnerable.

"The well-begin of the civilian population has been severely weakened by more than a decade of U.N. sanctions, a ‘weapon of mass destruction' kept in place largely by pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom (Saddam Hussein's policies are of course implicated as well.)," he wrote. "Some 60 percent of Iraqis now depend on food provided from outside through supply lines that may be disrupted by the war. Water, sanitation and health services, already precarious, would also be vulnerable to bombing-related disruption of electrical power."

Anticipating the start of war, many humanitarian aid agencies evacuated their personnel earlier this week, leaving local staffs and the U.S. military with the responsibility.

"American military planners have reportedly accepted the responsibilities of an occupying power under the Geneva Conventions," Minear wrote in the Herald Tribune. "Yet there is some question whether the Pentagon has taken seriously the likely magnitude of civilian needs that the United States will be required to meet."

Many U.S. officials, wrote the Tufts experts, believe the international community will offer financial support for long-term construction. But, he noted, that assumption remains "open to question."

"Statements by the Bush administration stress the humanitarian and human rights gains that successful military action may accomplish in Iraq and the region," Minear wrote. "This is not the first U.S. administration to make noble objectives the frosting on a national security cake. The icing is likely to be burnished further during the war by air drops of humanitarian rations, expected in even larger numbers than the amount offered in Afghanistan, where aid sought to conjure a humanitarian rubric for the military confrontation with the Taliban and al Qaeda."

A war that results in the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure, Minear wrote, may lead to a humanitarian crisis without easy solution.

"A decision to stay the American sword would arguably avoid a heightened humanitarian catastrophe and with it the frustration of U.S. political and security hopes in the region," Minear wrote in the Herald Tribune.

Photo by U.S. Navy photo by Chief Journalist Alan J. Baribeau.

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