Monday, April 14, 2003

Off the Stove . . . and Into the Fire?

So, for a whole week — from Friday, April 4, to Friday, April 11 (not counting the Sunday edition, which I don't read) — the New York Times carried no coverage of humanitarian relief in Iraq.

Nothing in Saturday's paper. Nothing in Monday's paper. Tuesday's paper, April 8th, ignored it as well. As did Wednesday, April 9th's. I missed Thursday's paper. Which brings us to Friday, April 11.

The New York Times' lead story on Friday, April 11, running under the banner headline "Allies Widen Hold on Iraq; Civil Strife on Rise," was headlined "Kurds Take Northern City — Grim Episodes in Capital" (online titled "Allies Enter Mosul After Seeing Signs of Possible Surrender").

Written by Patrick E. Tyler out of Kuwait, the article was not about aid for Iraq, as you can tell by the title, but did note the following, in the jump on page B5 of the Nation at War section:

"But most international attention was focused on Baghdad and southern Iraq. In New York, the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, lamented that 'the Iraqis have paid a very heavy price for this.' Citing mounting civilian casualties and the lack of any 'functioning government in Iraq at the moment,' Mr. Annan admonished the American and British governments that 'the coalition has a responsibility for the welfare of the people in this area.'

"Bush administration officials were at pains on Thursday to explain the allies' efforts to rush food, water and medical supplies into the war zone, but they continued to avoid responding to the broader demand that they halt the spreading lawlessness.

" 'You can't do everything at once,' General McChrystal said at the Pentagon, where there was continued resistance to the idea that the 130,000 soldiers now in Iraq could be diverted from war fighting to begin policing the violent and chaotic streets of Iraqi cities, where fires burned out of control in some neighborhoods, garbage mounted in the streets and basic services were collapsing."


In addition, the caption for the photo that typically runs across the upper third of the front page of the Nation at War section, on Friday read as follows:

"WAITING FOR FOOD Iraqi girls and women waited patiently yesterday for food rations at an aid site run by the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Nasiriya. Allied forces are bringing food, water, and medicine to the Iraqi people."

My comment: Perhaps they are (or were). But why can't we read something about it, then? Something more substantial than a photo caption, I mean. As I've written here before, there are other articles in the Times that mention aid. But to mention it and to write about it are two different things.


Having said that, now I will backtrack and return to mentions of aid in the past few days, and a few other interesting articles in the Times on topics other than humanitarian relief for Iraq.

"Troops Bring Home an Iraqi Who Fled in '91" — a front-page story by Charlie LeDuff in the Times of Tuesday, April 8 (one of two below-the-fold stories which ran under the banner hed "Warm Welcome and Stubborn Resistance for Marines") — is written out of Qalat Sukkar, in southeastern Iraq. In it, LeDuff reports:

"There is much relief work to be done here. The buildings are pock-marked with bullet holes. Salty pools are the only reminders that irrigation ditches once watered the area, until dams were built to destroy mutinous towns like this. The residents say the town has been without power for weeks, there is no fresh water, the nearest hospital is more than 50 miles to the south. There is no medicine. They pleaded for food.

" 'Please, I am hungry,' Naim Naji said in English. 'No clothes, no food. Ten children. No shoes. I no see.'

"Bandits rule the night, the townspeople say. There are no policemen anymore, and when the sun goes down, young men in pickup trucks peel around the streets with guns, kicking in doors, demanding money and carting away anything of value. The villagers stay inside and pile what furniture they have against the doors.

" 'No police,' Ali Masul said. 'Please, will there be police?'

"At this stage, there will be no civil policing by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said its commander, Col. Richard Mills, whose unit is spread from Nasiriya in the south to Kut in the north, from the main highway in the west to the Iranian border. The unit's mission is to keep supply lines open, mop up resistance and capture senior military and Baath Party officials still at large.

" 'Aid could take a while," Colonel Mills said. 'But look at this scene. It feels good to do something for someone once in a while.' "


Another mention of humanitarian assistance for Iraq in the Times of Tuesday, April 8: "There's Work to Be Done Before Declaring Victory, Rumsfeld Cautions," by Eric Schmitt, on page B5, a summary of a news conference by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"In Basra, British forces are grinding down what remains of Iraqi resistance there. But even as the fighting continues, a retired Army lieutenant general, Jay Garner, is preparing to begin the Pentagon reconstruction and relief effort.

"But General Garner's responsibilities will not extend to securing the country, Mr. Rumsfeld emphasized. That responsibility will go to Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the military commander for the war and General Garner's boss.

" 'General Garner is not there to do the stabilization,' Mr. Rumsfeld said today. 'General Franks will do the stabilization. General Garner's activity is a civil administration activity. And it involves the re-establishment of an Iraqi government. It involves seeing that the humanitarian assistance takes place.' "


A front-page story on Tuesday, April 8 — "Bush Meets Blair; Conference in Belfast Over Role of U.N. in Iraq After the War" (online titled "Bush Meets With Blair to Discuss Postwar Iraq"), by Richard W. Stevenson and Warren Hoge — documented the ongoing debate about the proper role for the U.N. in postwar Iraq.

"[U.S. Secretary of State Colin] Powell and British officials played down the magnitude of the differences between the United States and Britain over the United Nations role.

"The United Nations, Mr. Powell said, would have 'an endorsing role to play to the interim authority to give it legitimacy,' a formulation that appeared to reserve for the United States and Britain the right to select the leaders of the temporary postwar administration.

"A spokesman for Mr. Blair used similar language, referring to the United Nations' being involved 'in a way that endorses that new Iraqi authority' as a step toward establishing a full-fledged Iraqi government.

"Initially, primary responsibility for administering Iraq would rest with a team led by a retired United States Army general, Jay Garner, and the interim Iraqi authority would be likely to begin assuming power after that, perhaps 90 days later, the British spokesman said."

The jump on page B9 notes that Tony Blair "had earlier envisaged a more prominent role for the United Nations, but he emerged from his last meeting with Mr. Bush, at Camp David on March 27, emphasizing the need for the United Nations to endorse the transition plans rather than play a central part in the plans, as he had advocated at the first summit meeting, in the Azores on March 16."


John M. Broder had the lead story in Wednesday, April 9's, New York Times, under the banner hed "U.S. Tightens Grip; Rockets Rain on Baghdad" (the hed for the article itself, at least in the print edition, was "State Centers Hit; Allies Fan Out in Iraq — Resistance Outside Capital Is Light").

Last graf before the jump: "In Basra, Iraq's second city, British officers said they had established a rudimentary local administration and begun distributing water, but the southern city was deemed still too unsafe for F. J. Walters, a former general from Texas who arrived in the southern port of Umm Qasr with the first 20 members of the team that the United States envisions governing Iraq after the war."


Another front-page story — "Bush Sees Aid Role of U.N. as Limited in Rebuilding Iraq," by Richard W. Stevenson, still with Bush and Blair in Northern Ireland — opens with this graf:

"President Bush pledged today to grant the United Nations a 'vital role' in postwar Iraq, but defined that principally as providing food, medicine and aid."

Four grafs down, Stevenson reports that ". . . pressed as to what exactly he meant, the president said: 'That means food. That means medicine. That means aid.' He added, 'That means being, you know, a party to the progress being made in Iraq.' "

Bush and Blair also issued a joint statement after their meeting, which, according to Stevenson, "said they would seek United Nations resolutions 'that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq.' "

The statement, published in full (I couldn't find it on the Times site; but here it is from the U.S. Embassy in Ireland), along with excerpts from Bush and Blair's news conference, below the jump of the story above, on page B7, mentions the words aid, assistance, relief, or humanitarian eight times in ten paragraphs, by my count:

1) Graf 2, Sentence 2: "We will eliminate the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, deliver humanitarian aid, and secure the freedom of the Iraqi people."

2) Graf 6, in its entirety: "The Coalition is delivering food, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. This flow will increase as more of Iraq's territory is liberated and United Nations specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations are better able to operate. We welcome the adoption by the United Nations Security Council of Resolution 1472, which will allow shipments of humanitarian items to Iraq to resume under the Oil for Food program."

3) Graf 8, Sentences 2, 3, and 4: "The United Nations has a vital role to play in the reconstruction of Iraq. We welcome the efforts of U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations in providing immediate assistance to the people of Iraq. As we stated in the Azores, we plan to seek the adoption of new United Nations Security Council resolutions that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief, and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq."


Other mentions of aid for Iraq in the Times of Wednesday, April 9, were related to the country's postwar reconstruction.

"U.S. Team Arrives in Iraq to Establish Postwar Base" — on page B10, written by Jane Perlez in Kuwait — reported:

"A retired American general, F. J. Walters, and the first Americans dispatched by the Bush administration to bring democracy and aid to Iraq crossed over the northern border of Kuwait and into Iraq this morning [April 8] in a small convoy of armored Suburbans.

"In addition to General Walters, who is 62 and from Texas, the group of 20 included an Arabic-speaking State Department diplomat, a communications expert and a press secretary from the American military.

"American officials said the group established a base in the port of Umm Qasr, just a 15-minute drive over the Kuwaiti border, essentially a toehold for what the Bush administration envisages as a postwar administration headed by another retired general, Jay Garner.

"General Walters, who is known as Buck, was designated the Bush administration's 'coordinator' for southern Iraq. He will eventually be based in Basra, Iraq's second city, but administration officials said the situation there was still too chaotic for the Americans to venture there today.

"The date of General Garner's departure for Baghdad is still unclear. He has been in Kuwait coaching a team of more than 200 American aid experts, former military officers and diplomats in the tasks of running Iraq.

"Several members of the general's team said they were unsure what President Bush meant today when he said during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that the United Nations would play a 'vital role' in Iraq. But they said they doubted that it meant a role for the United Nations beyond involvement in delivering food, construction materials and other aid."

Perlez also noted: "The major posts in General Garner's organization — officially called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance — have been filled either by the Pentagon, or after vetting by senior Pentagon officials.

"Under the Garner plan, Iraq would be divided into three sectors — the south, the center and the north, with each to be headed by a coordinator. A former ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, has been designated as the coordinator for the central sector and will devote most of her time to the problems of Baghdad, General Garner has said."

And three grafs from the end: "One of the early tasks for General Walters in southern Iraq will be to try to ensure that the distribution system set up under the United Nations 'oil for food' program in recent years continues, one official said."


The last story in the Times of April 9 that mentioned aid for Iraq was by Elizabeth Becker in Washington. It ran on page B11 with the title "Two Democrats Call for Scrutiny of Bidding to Reconstruct Iraq."

The piece — about how Representatives Henry Waxman of California and John Dingell of Michigan "asked for . . . an investigation into how the Bush administration is awarding contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq" — notes that the U.S. Agency for International Development, "which will award at least $1.6 billion in contracts to rebuild Iraq," has already given out two of eight contracts: "Stevedoring Services of America was awarded a $4.8 million contract to operate the port of Umm Qasr. The International Resources Group won a $7.1 million contract to provide support for planning, monitoring, coordination, management and reporting on reconstruction and rehabilitation activities."


As I said above, and I'm sorry for this, I missed buying the New York Times on Thursday, April 10, and there were no stories about aid on the 11th. There were references to the need for aid, though, and a story about Iraqi refugees.

John F. Burns's front-page story — "Looting and a Suicide Attack as Chaos Grows in Baghdad" (online titled "Looting and a Suicide Attack in Baghdad") — notes in the jump on page B3 of the Nation at War section that the Unicef building in Baghdad was the target of looters on Thursday, April 10.

Writes Burns: "With other United Nations offices escaping attack, some Iraqis suggested that Unicef might have been a target because of a belief among the looters that the agency had become too pliant in the face of the Baghdad government's incessant claims that the sanctions, and not the manipulation of the sanctions by Mr. Hussein, had been responsible for the worst suffering among Iraqi children.

"One of Baghdad's main medical centers, Al Kindi Hospital, was also a target. After three weeks of American bombing, the wards were filled with civilians suffering from blast and shrapnel wounds, and its morgue filled, too, with those killed in the conflict. Yet the hospital took the full brunt of the looting.

"Nada Doumani, an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the sprawling hospital complex had lost beds, electrical fittings and other equipment, worsening the crisis already afflicting all of Baghdad's medical centers."


The story on Iraqi refugees"In Saudi Desert, '91 Iraqi Refugees Long to Return," by Sarah Kershaw writing from a refugee camp in Rafha, Saudi Arabia — reports that there are "400,000 officially recognized Iraqi refugees across the Arab world and in Europe and the United States, but hundreds of thousands more are living in exile.

"Their return, which has become a focus of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and other international organizations, may not be imminent. But it is, finally, possible."

From the jump on page B11: "After the Persian Gulf war of 1991, the camp [in Rafha] housed roughly 33,000 Iraqi refugees. Over the years, 3,000 went back to Iraq and 25,000 were resettled in other countries, about half of those in the United States.

"The United Nations agency can facilitate the return of refugees to Iraq, but it is not recommending they return now because of continuing violence. Still, many refugees said they were planning to leave for Iraq as soon as possible."

Right next to the jump of Kershaw's story, on page B11, was also a story about Iraqi-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, by Jodi Wilgoren with Nick Madigan. Titled "Iraqis in U.S. Prepare to Return and Rebuild Homeland", the article focuses on an international group founded in 1998, Iraqi Youth Reunion, which has "about 65" members in Dearborn "who plan to go to Iraq within weeks or months as part of the reconstruction effort."

Wilgoren and Madigan write: "Some Iraqi-Americans, worried about the persistent danger and concerned that their presence could complicate the transition to a post-Saddam government, said they would wait until a new government was established before considering a visit. But others, outraged that a retired Army general, Jay Garner, has been chosen to lead the rebuilding effort, are eager to be among the Iraqi exiles meeting in Baghdad to plot the future."

They note, too: "Those who plan to head east say they hope to use their fluent Arabic to translate for American soldiers and international humanitarian aid workers."

As opposed to officially recognized Iraqi refugees, who were the focus of Kershaw's piece, Wilgoren and Madigan's dispatch says that there are "some three million Iraqis [living] in exile, mostly Shiite Muslims or Chaldean Christians, with an estimated 300,000 in the United States, about a third here in the Detroit area."


And again coming back to the USAID contracts for reconstruction of Iraq: Elizabeth Becker's page B12 story of Friday, April 11 — "Details Given on Contract Halliburton Was Awarded" (I had to go offsite for this, but this is the full text) — reports:

"The most sought-after contract will be awarded by the United States Agency for International Development and will cover the initial work to rebuild Iraq's roads, water and power systems, schools and hospitals. Bidding was restricted to five American companies for the same reasons that Kellogg Brown & Root won its contract without any competition: the need for speed and for security clearances."