International staff members of the United Nations will begin returning to northern and eastern Iraq on Monday, according to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Ramiro Lopes da Silva.
Addressing two separate audiences at the weekend in the Jordanian capital, Amman - one a media briefing with journalists, the other a discussion with NGOs - da Silva said the UN had decided to change its approach to the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Iraq: rather than waiting for full access in order to conduct assessments of humanitarian needs, UN agencies would instead begin a general resupply of humanitarian inputs based on knowledge gained by experience in Iraq over the past decade.
This, however, would be done to the degree that security conditions on the ground permitted. "We want to organise this return to Iraq without incurring undue risk for our colleagues who will be leading the response," da Silva told some 75 national and international journalists assembled at the UN media briefing centre in Amman. He warned that the UN return to Iraq would be "very much constrained" by the lack of law and order on the ground, particularly in urban areas.
He reiterated the UN's call for coalition forces to fulfil their responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions for restoring law and order. "We are extremely concerned about what we see as anarchy and chaos in urban areas of Iraq," da Silva said. He added that he hoped that after numerous high-level UN representative contacts with the occupying powers that the coalition would have taken note of the humanitarian community's concerns.
Da Silva said that the few humanitarian actors who had remained in Iraq during the conflict were having more difficulty operating under the current disorder than they had been during the full-scale fighting between Iraqi and coalition forces. "We may not have active conflict in all areas of the country, but the lack of law and order poses a far greater challenge than in the case of two warring parties with whom you can negotiate."
He cited the case of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was able to maintain some degree of activity during the conflict, but had been forced to suspend its operation in the face of the disorder accompanying the arrival of coalition forces.
As for how the UN's return to Iraq would take place in practical terms, da Silva said the UN intended to deliver supplies wherever possible to institutions and civil society organisations with which it had established longstanding relations.
Responding to concerns voiced by NGOs regarding interaction and coordination with occupying military forces, da Silva said he understood the reluctance of NGOs to engage directly with them, and the need for the UN to serve in an intermediary role.
UN intervention from outside Iraq's borders has taken place to a limited degree in recent days in the northern and southern regions, largely through the use of private contractors.
Da Silva said reports of UN offices across Iraq having been looted and damaged would not affect the UN's ability to return to Iraq. "Our immediate concern is for the hospitals, schools and private homes that are being looted," he said.
The last remaining international staff members were ordered by the UN to evacuate Iraq when coalition forces launched their offensive in mid-March. However, hundreds of Iraqi national staff members remained behind, persevering with the performance of their functions to whatever degree possible.
Da Silva was in Amman for a three-day visit to meet representatives of the Jordanian government and the international humanitarian community. His visit to Jordan was preceded by what he termed a "productive" meeting with government officials and humanitarian actors in the Iranian capital, Tehran, and would be followed by future visits to Syria, Turkey, and Kuwait with a similar agenda of promoting cooperation with and access for humanitarian agencies.
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