Voices in the Wilderness Banned from Palestine Hotel in Baghdad by U.S. Military
BAGHDAD - April 17 - Less than 24 hours after issuing a press release (below) highlighting the failures of the U.S. Military's attempts to oversee humanitarian intervention in Iraq, Voices in the Wilderness was banned from meeting with the U.S. Civil Military Operations Center, or international journalists, working out of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see attached picture).
Palestine Hotel, Baghdad - April 17, 2003
"NO VOICES OF WILDERNESS NGOs"
If the freedom to critique U.S. policies in Iraq regarding humanitarian issues is being curtailed already, then exactly what does this mean for building "democracy" here?
BAGHDAD (16 April, 2003) - Voices in the Wilderness representatives met today with the U.S. Military's Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) in their headquarters at the Palestine Hotel to discuss the emergency, humanitarian crisis facing Baghdad. Trash removal has not occurred for a month. Electricity, Sanitation and Communications were all seriously damaged during the U.S. war, and have yet to be restored in Baghdad. Cholera outbreaks have been reported in Basra, and rumored to have been found in the central Iraqi city of Hilla. Some of the local clinics are up and running, but medications for conditions such as hypertension and diabetes are no longer available. Quality control equipment and systems are also unavailable, and the lack of quality control could lead to serious problems in treatment, as well as creating the potential for epidemics due to contaminated blood products.
The previous distribution system set up under the "Oil-for-Food" program is in total collapse, and - unless essential services are immediately restored - Iraq faces a humanitarian catastrophe.
Prior to the war, the Pentagon set up Humanitarian Operations Coordination Centers (the HOC in Qatar and Kuwait, and the HAC in Jordan), as well as disaster assistance response teams (DART), to coordinate relief efforts between the U.S. military and United Nations and non-governmental organizations. Not only are HOC, HAC, and DART personnel not in Baghdad yet, CMOC was not even aware of the existence of these other military-humanitarian coordinating bodies.
CMOC reported that they did not yet have a plan for how to restore essential services in Baghdad, but are working on creating such a plan today. However, that information will not be publicly available for review, and will only be shared with organizations that agree to work with the U.S. Military in Baghdad - cutting out any humanitarian agency that insists on maintaining neutrality.
CMOC also reported that they spent several days locating hospitals, power plants, and water & sanitation plants in order to do needs assessments. Apparently no one in the U.S. Military thought to ask the United Nations, or other international organizations working in Iraq, for any of this information prior to, or even after, the fall of Baghdad. The World Health Organization and the Red Cross have been working in Iraq for years. The United Nations Development program has been working to assist Iraq in restoring electricity since 1996. Locations and assessments of civilian infrastructures are not secret information - except in the Pentagon's world. Why didn't anyone ask for this information? Why wasn't a plan for rehabilitation developed prior to the war?
When told that of rumors of a cholera outbreak in Hilla, CMOC even asked Voices in the Wilderness where that neighborhood was located in Baghdad - unaware that Hilla is a major Iraqi city located approximately 1 hour south of Baghdad!
The biggest problem CMOC reported is the lack of local workers needed to get civilian systems up and running. However, CMOC seemed unaware that the mostly unmanned roadblocks put up throughout the city are making it difficult for anyone to get to work, as is the lack of a coordinating body responsible for organizing these efforts.
PROBLEMS THAT NEED TO BE IMMEDIATELY ADDRESSED:
A coordinating body, not associated with any military organization, needs to be created to direct humanitarian assessment and relief efforts by all of the agencies working, or seeking to work, in Iraq. Previously, this was the corrupt, but functional, Iraqi Red Crescent Society.
Senior-level administrators at hospitals and other civilian centers fled with the collapse of the previous regime. This has led to chaotic conditions where lower-level staff are unsure who, if anyone, has the authority to make urgent decisions. This "power vacuum" must be immediately filled by creating new, decision-making-structures, not corrupted by the previous regime.
The U.S. Military has demonstrated that it is neither prepared, nor interested in becoming prepared, to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by their war. The international community must exert itself, and return UN control to dealing with this crisis, until Iraqis can form a government of their own to deal with the problems created by 12 years of sanctions and war.
Time is short.