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10 Reasons to Oppose US Militarization of Aid and Reconstruction in Iraq

Posted on: Sunday, April 13, 2003

Keywords: Iraq, Middle East, Peace Building

"We will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free."

George Bush, televised address, 3/17/03.

Now that Bush's illegal invasion has given way to illegal occupation, how should we understand his promise to the Iraqi people? The US insists on exercising direct military control over the administration of humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Iraq. We believe these processes should be handled by independent agencies of the United Nations. Here are 10 reasons why:

1) When Aid is Linked to Military Force, Food and Water are Turned Into Weapons.

  • Every person has an unconditional right to food, water and medicine. Meeting basic human needs should not be exploited as a means to a political end.
  • Leveraging control over the resources that people require to survive gives the military coercive power to demand people's allegiance and cooperation.

2) The Militarization of Aid Contradicts that Basic Principles of Humanitarian Assistance: Impartiality and Neutrality.1

  • For this reason, aid organizations such as Oxfam have refused to work under the control of the US military. Aid agencies fear that their staff - in Iraq and elsewhere - would be endangered by an association with the US attack.
  • Invading troops are hardly neutral or impartial. They are psychologically primed to kill people and destroy infrastructure, making them poor candidates for humanitarian roles.

3) The Military Lacks the Training and Experience to Distribute Aid Properly.

  • The result has been utter chaos: soldiers firing handguns into the air to keep order at distribution points, randomly throwing aid boxes off trucks into crowds and standing by while Iraqis fight each other with fists and knives to get at food packages.
  • These conditions violate the dignity of aid recipients. When people are pitted against each other in competition for scarce resources, their capacity to pull together to survive the crisis at hand is undermined and their dependence on the invading army is reinforced.
  • Aid distribution requires expertise. For example, in late March, Oxfam reported that soldiers had handed out powdered milk without proper instructions. For children, ingesting milk powder that has not been properly mixed with water can result in diarrhea or even death.

4) Militarization of Aid Threatens Women and Their Children.

  • As we saw from the television images of men shoving aside women to grab food packages, bungled aid distribution gets aid to those who are most powerful, not those who are most in need.
  • Women are disproportionately harmed when aid is distributed inequitably, first because they make up a larger sector of the poor, and secondly, because women are responsible for meeting the needs of the vast majority of the population, including those made most vulnerable by war (children and those who are sick, elderly, disabled and injured).
  • Unlike the US military, international relief agencies have learned that because women are usually the ones who grow, sell, procure and prepare food and who distribute food within families and communities, the best way to ensure that aid gets to those most in need is to involve community women in distribution.
  • When men control food aid, they are more likely to exchange food for cash or liquor or use it to demand sex from women and children.2
  • During the bombing, the US army distributed desperately needed drinking water to a few enterprising Iraqi men with trucks, who were then permitted to sell the water to thirsty families in one of Iraq's poorest areas. Some US press touted this decision as way to "jump start" a market economy in Iraq.

5) Humanitarian Aid Should be Directed to Meet the Basic Needs of Iraqis, Not the Propaganda Needs of the US Military.

  • Army spokespeople have stated bluntly that aid delivery is intended to make Iraqis view US soldiers as liberators rather than occupiers.
  • That aid distribution is primarily a public relations exercise became clear early on. There are 24 million people in Iraq. Yet, US soldiers came provisioned with enough food aid to sustain only two million people for a day and a half.
  • The UN World Food Program, meanwhile, was prepared to provide food for the entire Iraqi population for four months. But its operations were suspended for more than a month because the US military arbitrarily barred aid workers from entering Iraq.

6) Emergency Relief is The First Stage of Reconstruction.

  • Administering humanitarian aid and reconstruction is never a neutral process. These undertakings generate resources, jobs, training opportunities, the creation of new hierarchies and access to government, media and financial resources. Such opportunities empower those who are involved in reconstruction. Therefore, who controls and participates in aid and reconstruction efforts has far-reaching implications for Iraq.
  • The US is maintaining tight military control of aid and reconstruction through the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), run by retired US General Jay Garner. Under this plan, the UN and private relief agencies are being subordinated to the US military.
  • Unlike the ORHA, UN agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Program are independent agencies whose mandate is not tied to the political agenda of the Bush Administration, but to principles of humanitarianism. These agencies are more likely to work in partnership with Iraqi civil society groups that can be encouraged to promote women's leadership, prioritize the needs of people within the community and leave skills and resources in the hands of local organizations when the reconstruction process is ended.

7) The US is "Reconstructing" Iraq in Ways That Will Benefit US-Based Corporations and Endanger the Majority of Iraqis.

  • As a product of an illegal invasion waged without authorization from the UN Security Council, the US occupation of Iraq is also illegal. Therefore, the US should not be allowed to claim any power to determine economic, political or social arrangements in Iraq.
  • Yet, without consulting any representative Iraqi body, the US is auctioning off Iraq's nationally-owned assets to US corporations. Iraq's oil, utility companies, air and sea ports and other enterprises will generate tremendous profits for US companies who are not likely to reinvest profits to meet the basic needs of Iraqi women and families.
  • The overhaul of Iraq's educational, health care and banking system will be paid for by US taxpayers, but the profits will go to private companies.
  • While Iraqis suffered extreme political repression under Saddam Hussein, his government used oil revenues to ensure relatively high levels of public health, education, housing, employment and other social services. As in the US, these social and economic rights will not be protected in "free Iraq."

8) US Control of Reconstruction Encourages War Profiteering and Unscrupulous Conflicts of Interest.

  • The destruction of Iraq means big bucks for US corporations who are being hired - to the tune of $100 billion in government contracts - to rebuild the roads, government buildings, water systems, bridges and other infrastructure destroyed by the US. The contracts are blatant examples of kick-backs and conflicts of interest.
  • Even before the war began, the Administration secretly invited six US companies to bid on reconstruction contracts. These companies have a history of making large campaign contributions to the Republican Party.?4
  • Many of the same individuals who lobbied aggressively for the war have ties to the companies who are now profiting from rebuilding Iraq. For example, Dick Cheney is paid $1 million a year in "deferred retirement" by Halliburton, which was hired to fight oil-well fires in Iraq. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, who heads the advisory board of the virulently pro-war Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, is also on the board of directors of the Bechtel Group, which won the first major contract to repair transportation, power, water and sewage systems in Iraq.?5

9) The US is Trying to Shirk its Responsibility to Pay for Aid and Reconstruction in Iraq.

  • The Bush Administration has trumpeted its provision of some limited aid, but refuses to acknowledge that under the Geneva Convention, it has an obligation to provide for the full humanitarian needs of the entire Iraqi population and for post-war reconstruction.?6
  • The US has pressured the UN to release funds from its Oil-for-Food Program to pay for reconstruction. But the oil-for-food money belongs to the Iraqi people and should only be released to a new Iraqi government.?7

10) Only the United Nations has the Legitimate Authority to Provide Governance and Administer the Rebuilding of Iraq.

  • Yet, the US is determined to rule Iraq through military force. As Secretary of State Powell has said, "we didn't take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have significant, dominating control over how it unfolds in the future."8
  • The US has arbitrarily claimed the right to dictate the role of the United Nations in Iraq. According to Powell, "what we have to work out is how the UN role will be used to provide some level of endorsement for our actions."9
  • If the Bush Administration succeeds in relegating the UN to the role of a subcontractor for the US military, the system of international cooperation will be further eroded, leaving the world even more prone to eruptions of violence and lawlessness.


  • An immediate end to the US occupation of Iraq;
  • US recognition of its obligation to fund Iraq's humanitarian operations and honor UN leadership in administering aid and reconstruction efforts and interim governance in Iraq;
  • Representation of women's voices and priorities in a UN-led reconstruction process in accordance with UN Resolution 1325;10
  • Costs of Iraq's reconstruction to be covered neither by the Iraqi people nor US taxpayers, but by a 50% Excess Profit/Windfall for War tax on contracts offered to US corporations.11
  • By Yifat Susskind, Communications Director

    End Notes

    1 In Afghanistan in 2001, the US gave food to loyal warlords to distribute and left other people to starve. This kind of partisanship could lead abusive governments to block humanitarian aid, for fear that it would be used against them.

    2 In 2002, the United Nations discovered that male aid workers were using control of food aid to sexually exploit women and children in three refugee camps in West Africa. A UN investigation found that such abuse is common during humanitarian crises around the world.

    3 US policies have caused widespread poverty, malnutrition and disease, leaving 60% of Iraqis dependent on a government aid program that has now been destroyed by the US bombing.

    4 For more information on these companies and their ties to members of the Administration, see "Reconstructing Iraq - the Contractors" at

    5 In fact, a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity reveals that at least nine members of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, a non-elected group that plays a key role in determining foreign policy, have ties to corporations that won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in the past two years (

    6 Article 55 of the 4th Geneva Convention and Article 69 of the 1st Protocol.

    7 Security Council Resolution 986 (known as "oil-for-food") allows for the monitored sale of Iraqi oil to purchase food and other essential humanitarian supplies. The resolution was implemented in an effort to assuage the humanitarian disaster caused by the imposition of sanctions.

    8 Congressional Testimony. March 26, 2003.

    9 "Powell Briefs Press on Iraq, Turkey en route to Ankara." U.S. Department of State Official Text. April 1, 2003.

    10 Security Council Resolution 1325 recognizes that women are disproportionately impacted by war and calls for women's involvement in conflict-resolution and peace-building.

    11 As called for in "Who Rules The Peace?" by Phyllis Bennis. April 4, 2003.

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