While the Pentagon maintains control of humanitarian efforts in post-conflict Iraq, many religious aid agencies resist military oversight of their efforts.
“This flies in the face of humanitarian principles and the humanitarian code of conduct,” says Rick Augsburger, director of emergency programs for Church World Service. “We wouldn’t allow our efforts to come under the direction of the U.S. military.”
Kathryn Wolford, president of Lutheran World Relief and moderator of Action by Churches Together, a worldwide network of 200 churches and aid agencies, said, “Iraq escalates a growing trend toward the integration of political, military and humanitarian action. This jeopardizes the independence of aid and will put aid workers at risk in Iraq and beyond, as their impartiality can be suspect.”
Most agencies want U.N. oversight because the military isn’t trained to ensure aid gets to the people most in need. Recent scenes of aid distribution in southern Iraq show soldiers hurling provisions off trucks while firing shots in the air to maintain order. Aid went to the fastest and strongest.
While CWS, the American Friends Service Committee and World Vision indicated they might opt out, not all agencies will refuse to work in Iraq. Many, including LWR and Catholic Relief Services, say they hope to deliver aid through local partners independent of the armed forces as long as the military doesn’t try to control all distribution.
“Humanitarian work is best done by humanitarian organizations,” Wolford says. “After the guns fall silent, the military’s main humanitarian responsibility is to assure public order, including the security that aid workers need to do their work.”
Wolford agrees that it’s important to deal with the impact of pre-war sanctions in Iraq and the war. “But in the medium term, Iraq will have resources to draw on that some countries can only imagine,” she says.
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