Despite the dangers in Iraq posed by widespread looting and instability, the United Nations plans to send international aid workers into the country early next week, a senior UN official reported today.
"We hope Monday to be returning to the three northern governorates, Dahuk, Erbil and Sulmanieya," Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, told reporters in Amman. Some 13 international staff are scheduled to go to each of those areas, he said.
The UN plans to broaden its outreach in the southern part of the country, while providing help to eastern Iraq, where there are approximately 30,000 displaced persons, he added.
"We will be expanding the UN presence as the situation of law and order on the ground allows us to return without incurring undue risks for our colleagues who have to undertake the humanitarian response," said Mr. Lopes da Silva, stressing the urgent need to provide food and basic services to the beleaguered Iraqi people.
Voicing concern over delays in the relief effort caused by insecurity, he urged coalition forces to exercise control. "Our return to Iraq is very much constrained by the situation of lack of law and order on the ground," he said.
"In terms of risk, the fact that there is a lack of law and order makes it extremely more dangerous than a situation of active conflict between two organized armed forces," he observed, pointing out that aid agencies could at least establish some level of contact with well-defined parties.
At the same time, he noted reports that coalition forces had undertaken to restore "some level" of normalcy. "I hope we will be able to see on the ground the swift results of this commitment to allow [us], as the humanitarian agencies, to carry out our responsibilities."
Responding to press questions, Mr. Lopes da Silva said the UN is "extremely concerned" by the prevailing anarchy and chaos in Iraq's main urban centres. In the short-term, he noted, this hampers international efforts to deliver relief supplies. "In a more medium-term perspective we are concerned that this is passing the wrong message to the Iraqis in the days immediately after the collapse of the Ba'athist regime and the wrong signal in terms of what the future is in Iraq, what freedom and democracy entails."
Asked about reports that UN premises were being looted, he said these were not a priority problem. "Our immediate concern is not the UN offices being looted, our main concern is the fact that hospitals, private houses and schools are being looted."
The Humanitarian Coordinator is currently touring the region to discuss issues related to the relief effort for Iraq. He termed his recent talks with officials in Iran as "fruitful." In the coming days, he is scheduled to visit Syria, Turkey and Kuwait.