Rebuilding Iraq – London sees it differently from Washington

Gil Loescher Arthur C. Helton
26 March 2003


- British military and humanitarian relief agencies have allocated some $150m so far for humanitarian operations.

- Unlike its US counterpart, Britain’s Department for International Development sees its main role as funding the UN and other agencies to undertake relief and rebuilding work.

- Most British non-governmental organisations (NGOs) opposed the decision to wage war, and are seeking funds directly from the public. By contrast, many American NGOs are highly dependent on US government funding.

- The US plans a minimal role for the UN in a post-Saddam Iraq. The British government is pressing for a larger UN role, and is seeking UN Security Council Resolutions to continue the oil-for-food programme and establish a post-Saddam UN administration.

Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) has a much smaller capacity than its American counterpart, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), to take direct action in the field. According to Peter Troy, DfID’s manager of humanitarian programmes, with over thirty years experience in humanitarian relief operations, DfID has twenty-five staff on hand to provide advice and assessments. It has stationed just a handful of military-humanitarian advisers in Kuwait and Qatar.

By contrast, USAID has recruited and trained a 62-person Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). It is headquartered in Kuwait City and has three mobile field offices in Iraq. In addition to technical experts in areas such as health, food, water and shelter, the DART has administrative officers in logistics, transportation and procurement, enabling the team to undertake assessments and make funding decisions in the field. The DART’s responsibilities also include planning for reconstruction following the war.

The British humanitarian role

In the run-up to war, says Troy, UK military-humanitarian advisers concentrated on sensitising British armed forces about their obligations under international humanitarian law to avoid targeting civilians and non-military targets such as hospitals, food supplies and power stations. Allied war aims include keeping civilian casualties to a minimum and avoiding destruction of Iraqi economic and social infrastructure.

A primary role of the military will be to control large areas of Iraq and ensure that food, medical and other forms of aid are quickly distributed to the civilian population as soon as Iraqi port cities are secured, says Troy. This is unlike most recent conflicts.

So far, however, the Humanitarian Task Force, leading humanitarian assistance for the Ministry of Defence, has only received a small fraction of the equipment and supplies needed to deal with the up to 2 million Iraqis who are expected to be displaced, and the tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers who are expected to disperse, surrender, or become demobilised.

According to Peter Troy, one of the major differences between the American and British approaches is that, in contrast to DART policy, DfID’s military-humanitarian officers will not follow the UK military into Iraq during the conflict, but instead will remain at UK military headquarters in Kuwait and Qatar.

DfID officers have a limited capacity to undertake emergency relief and ‘small impact’ projects in the immediate aftermath of conflict – such as supplying fuel or power supplies or repairing sanitation facilities and other small-scale infrastructure. Rather than planning to undertake long-term reconstruction needs itself, DfID sees its main role as providing funding to other organisations capable of delivering long-term assistance.

To prepare for a humanitarian emergency in Iraq, DfID has already provided £20 million ($30m) to the humanitarian agencies – including £13 million ($19.5m) to UN agencies, £2 million ($3m) to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and £5 million ($7.5m) to non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

In addition, DfID has seconded staff and provided other in-kind support to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other agencies. The UK military has a separate allocation of £30 million ($45m) from the Ministry of Defence to support its humanitarian work in Iraq.

In total, DfID has set aside £70 million ($105m) for emergency assistance in Iraq. “This sum will probably prove to be inadequate to respond to the likely needs”, says Troy. British NGOs have called for more UK funds to be set aside for a humanitarian crisis.

NGOs: remaining independent and impartial

In Britain, the NGO community has been a long-standing and major source of humanitarian expertise and operations. DfID is offering NGOs grants for contingency planning. However, many of the major NGOs strongly oppose their government’s decision to go to war and fear that their independence and impartiality will be fatally compromised if they are perceived to be part of the war effort.

Several of the NGOs – like Oxfam, CARE International, and Medecins Sans Frontieres, have ruled out accepting money from the UK government during hostilities. This means that NGOs will have to draw on their own reserves and mount their own fundraising drives from independent sources to finance their emergency programs.

Some of the major British NGOs belong to the UK Disasters Emergency Committee, a consortium of some twenty organisations that will soon launch a major public appeal for funds for Iraq. American NGOs, many of whom are highly dependent on US government funding, do not have an analogous funding consortium.

The US and Britain: emerging tensions over reconstruction

NGO opposition to American, British (or indeed European Union) plans for the reconstruction of post-war Iraq may prove as contentious an issue as the bitter diplomatic battles at the UN over whether to go to war in the first place.

Peter Troy stresses that “the British government has made clear its view that a UN administration is essential to post-war plans”. The European Union (EU) has taken a similar position. The European Community Humanitarian Office is likely to provide substantial humanitarian assistance and would seek a major role in the reconstruction work, particularly if the UN coordinates assistance.

In a recent interview, the Development Secretary, Clare Short, declared that “without a UN mandate, any belligerents would be an occupying army and have absolutely no right in international law to change any of the institutional arrangements of the country.”

The British are therefore pressing for two new UN Security Council resolutions. The first would focus on the continuation of the oil-for-food programme after the collapse of the Iraqi regime. There is a need to draw on the up to $40 billion in Iraqi oil proceeds currently held in a UN escrow account in order to defray the costs of the humanitarian operation. The second resolution would concentrate on the establishment of a post-Saddam administration under the aegis of the UN.

In contrast, US plans for Iraqi reconstruction suggest a minimal role for the UN. So far, the Pentagon plans a military administration in the immediate aftermath of the war. A senior US military commander will handle security and have overall authority, while a retired lieutenant general will be responsible for civilian administration. In addition, a number of US advisers, many of them retired officials from the Defense and State Departments, and the Central Intelligence Agency, will operate within existing Iraqi government ministries.

USAID announced recently that it was soliciting proposals for post-war reconstruction projects, ranging from contracts to rehabilitate ports and airports to building schools and providing services in health care and education, from five large American companies. Peter Troy admits that this has led to great concern that by the time new UN resolutions are passed “all the lucrative contracts to carry out reconstruction work in Iraq will have been sewn up by US companies”. As Poul Nielson, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, puts it: in Iraq, “to the victors go the spoils.”

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