President Bush last night spoke at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and claimed an invasion of Iraq will set the stage for peace in the Middle East. He also tried to allay fears of a humanitarian disaster. Claiming "the first to benefit from a free Iraq would be the Iraqi people themselves," he promised the U.S. will deliver medicine and said the U.S. is already moving into place nearly three million emergency rations to feed the hungry.
But Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill reports from Baghdad that the Bush administration’s humanitarian plans are being met with disdain by Western humanitarian organizations inside Iraq. One humanitarian official told Democracy Now!, "It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad."
Worse, Democracy Now! has learned the Pentagon is asking humanitarian organizations for the global positioning coordinates of civilian sites, such as water treatment facilities, electrical power plants, sewage treatment systems and food distribution centers.
The Pentagon is telling the organizations it wants this information so it won’t accidentally bomb these sites. But the U.S. systematically attacked civilian infrastructure during 1991 Gulf War. And in Afghanistan, a clearly marked Red Cross warehouse was bombed twice, and the Kabul headquarters of the Al Jazeera news agency was bombed as the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance was taking the city.
One humanitarian official told Scahill it would be outrageous if any cooperated with the Pentagon, saying it would be tantamount to spying for the U.S. government.
In addition, Democracy Now! has learned Washington has been pressuring the International Committee of the Red Cross over past several months not to repeat what it did in Afghanistan: criticize the U.S. use of non-conventional weapons like cluster bombs, and the very public denunciation of the Guantánamo detention camps as a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report, The Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. President Bush last night claimed a war in Iraq would set the stage for peace in the Middle East. He was speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Bush also drew a comprehensive picture of post-war Iraq and discussed humanitarian missions.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: If we must use force, the United States and our coalition stand ready to help the citizens of a liberated Iraq. We will deliver medicine to the sick, and we are now moving into place nearly three million emergency rations to feed the hungry. We’ll make sure that Iraq’s 55,000 food distribution sites operating under the Oil-for-Food program are stocked and open as soon as possible. The United States and Great Britain are providing tens of millions of dollars to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees and to such groups as the World Food Program and UNICEF to provide emergency aid to the Iraqi people.
AMY GOODMAN: George Bush, from the American Enterprise Institute last night, as we turn now to Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill in Baghdad.
JEREMY SCAHILL: There has been no official reaction yet from Baghdad on George W. Bush’s speech last night, but clearly Iraq is realizing that war will soon come. Yesterday Iraqi police deployed around key installations in western Baghdad, the center of power here in the Iraqi capital. Police wielding rocket-propelled grenade launchers, machine guns and anti-aircraft weaponry could be clearly seen in the first major drill of wartime defense. Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, met with the governors of Iraq’s 18 provinces. He told them all to order every citizen to dig a trench in their yards for the coming war.
This comes as George W. Bush spoke of war last night as basically a done deal. He focused instead on a post-Saddam Iraq. George Bush talked of the millions of dollars he says Washington has allocated for post-war humanitarian operations and relief. But these statements have already been criticized by some international humanitarian organizations, who say Washington is attaching conditions to the money and that Washington is simply not giving anywhere near enough funding to begin to cope with what will happen inside Iraq as a result of war. The organizations, like Refugees International, say the Bush administration has delayed funding that could jump-start preparations and that the funding provided to date represents less than 20 percent of what the United Nations needs to position basic relief supplies. Among the nongovernmental organizations on the ground here in Baghdad, Bush’s so-called plans are being met with disdain.
Western humanitarian sources here in the Iraqi capital have told Democracy Now! that for the past six months a network of primarily American NGOs called InterAction have been holding confidential meetings with senior Pentagon officials, including General Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S. forces that will attack Iraq. According to our sources, the Pentagon has asked the humanitarian and relief groups to provide the Pentagon with global positioning coordinates for civilian sites inside Iraq. This would include such sites as water treatment facilities, electrical power plants, sewage treatment systems and food distribution centers. The Pentagon has told the groups that it wants the coordinates so that it will not accidentally bomb the sites. But as our sources point out, the U.S. methodically attacked Iraq’s civilian infrastructure during the 1991 Gulf War. One humanitarian official said it would be outrageous if any humanitarian organization cooperated with this request, saying that it would be tantamount to spying for the U.S. government. Also our sources say that Bush’s speech last night about humanitarian relief in a post-war Iraq, quote, "would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad."
Most humanitarian groups on the ground here say that Washington is essentially pressuring them to work with the Pentagon, permitting the U.S. military to direct their activities. According to our sources, this could create a situation where Washington prohibits the relief operations from going into certain areas, under the explanation that they would not be safe. Now, this comes as Democracy Now! has learned that over the past several months Washington has been pressuring the International Committee of the Red Cross not to repeat what it did in Afghanistan, which was to criticize Washington’s use of non-conventional weapons, such as cluster bombs, and the Red Cross’s very public denunciation of the Guantánamo detention camps as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. In Afghanistan, Washington bombed Red Cross as well as other international humanitarian facilities.
Our sources say that the U.S. plan with the NGOs is one of both intimidation and co-optation, that the U.S. does not want credible, independent or neutral observers on the ground to witness firsthand the civilian devastation that will be caused from a massive U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Some organizations here say they will not have any communications with the Pentagon and are already setting up facilities of their own to address the coming humanitarian disaster. But all parties involved recognize that there is no adequate measures, short of stopping a war, that could even begin to cope with what Washington’s war will inflict on the people of Iraq.
For Democracy Now!, this is Jeremy Scahill in Baghdad.
AMY GOODMAN: And you are listening to Democracy Now! Breaking the Sound Barrier.