Washington, April 1: As US Army tactics came under renewed fire today with more civilian casualties, new evidence surfaced here about fissures at the top of the Bush administration on Washington’s uphill fight for the “hearts and minds of the Iraqi people”.
Secretary of state Colin Powell left for Ankara and Brussels early this morning, but not before firing off a letter to defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, objecting to Pentagon’s plans to oversee the distribution of humanitarian aid in Iraq.
The New York Times, which described the letter as “unusual”, insisted that the state department must retain control of the assistance programmes for Iraq.
Yesterday, G.R. Popal, country director of WHO in Iraq, became the latest in a series of international civil servants and aid coordinators who have made it clear that they respected the sovereignty of Iraq and would not report to any foreign army within that country.
Last week, Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International and heads of a dozen more US aid agencies, wrote a joint letter to President George W. Bush, asking him to let the UN take charge of the humanitarian relief effort in Iraq.
Bacon was Pentagon spokesman during the Clinton administration and his signature on the letter added extra weight to the demand, coming from someone who was part of the US military operations in Kosovo.
The letter pointed out to the White House that UN bodies such as Unicef and the World Food Programme had long ground experience in Iraq and that the US should take advantage of their record. The state department, already facing challenges which are somewhat unprecedented, is worried that aid distribution under military supervision would make its task of winning over other governments on its Iraq policy more difficult.
Many countries would view it as further evidence — legal and moral — that the US has an army of occupation in Iraq.
Rumsfeld has already sent Lieutenant General (Retd) Jay Garner, director of the recently created Pentagon Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq, to Kuwait to take charge of aid.
He is said to be the man who will run Iraq after the war, although nominally General Tommy Franks, head of the US Central Command, will be in charge.
Normally, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is in charge of relief and rehabilitation and it reports to the state department. However, Lt Gen. Garner’s staff reports to Gen. Franks.
The USAID already has a disaster assistance response team of about 50 members waiting in Kuwait. But they cannot fulfil even a fraction of Iraqi needs unless they work with other US and international relief agencies with a network in that country. However, these agencies are unwilling to operate under the direction of the US military.
The controversy over aid supervision broke here today even as it became clear that a week after Umm Qasr port was declared safe, no relief vessel was docking at Iraq’s only deep-water facility.
Ships will not call at the port until the UN’s Office of Security coordinator declares that it is safe. And the UN will not inspect the port under the directions of what is legally an army of occupation.
The issue is likely to figure in Powell’s talks with the European Union in Brussels. His first overseas trip in weeks came after intense criticism that the state department had not put its best foot forward in making Washington’s case with foreign governments.