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USAID Administrator:  Iraq Relief, Reconstruction Package 'Unprecedented'


The U.S. Agency for International Development is preparing to carry out what it calls an unprecedented program of humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Iraq. The U.S. agency's head says the effort includes help from at least six other countries.

Andrew Natsios, USAID administrator, says the $2.4 billion budgeted for relief and reconstruction in Iraq is the most money his agency has ever spent in one year in one country in AID's 40-year history.

"The only thing comparable would probably be the Marshall Plan in the 1940s, although the Marshall Plan was for many countries all over Europe after World War II," said Mr. Natsios.

He also said he feels that food in most parts of Iraq is not an immediate concern because the Iraqi government had been providing double rations to the general population since last October.

But, he added, access to clean water is a serious concern in places like Basra, where he accuses the Baath party of cutting off water to the entire city by cutting off electricity to the water pumping plant.

Mr. Natsios pointed out that at least six other countries, including coalition partner Britain, as well as Australia, Japan and Kuwait, have pledged to help with humanitarian relief efforts.

A seven-truck convoy carrying emergency food aid from Kuwait arrived Wednesday in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Iraqi youths swarmed British troops, who were handing out food packets and bottles of water.

British Captain Brad Percival said he feels the residents are not accustomed to receiving such aid and are simply afraid it will disappear.

"Hopefully they [the Iraqi people] get to trust us and they know that we're going to be there," he said. "They don't have to squabble. They don't have to rush. Today's the first time here. Tomorrow, when we come back, hopefully it will be less hectic."

In the nearby town of Safwan, Iraqi people showed their mixed emotions as they chanted pro-Saddam slogans, even as they scrambled for food aid packets.

Minesweepers are clearing Umm Qasr's port, where a British ship carrying more than 200 metric tons of food and relief supplies is waiting to offload. Mr. Natsios adds that U.S. food aid for Iraq will total 610,000 metric tons. Some of it, he says, is already on its way.

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