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US Can Begin Relief Work in Iraq Soon, says AID Official - 2003-04-10

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development says the United States is in position to begin relief work in Iraq as soon as the security situation in the country is stabilized. U.S. AID administrator Andrew Natsios appeared before a congressional subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

About $2.5 billion of President Bush's budget request to pay for the initial costs of the war in Iraq is devoted to reconstruction.

At Wednesday's hearing of the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, lawmakers wanted to know exactly what role the U.S. Agency for International Development will play under the man designated to head an interim administration in Iraq, retired General Jay Garner.

Mr. Natsios said planning was an "elaborate process" involving many U.S. government agencies, encompassing humanitarian aid and reconstruction. He says relief aid will be kept strictly separate from ongoing military operations.

The U.S. AID administrator says the most crucial need in Iraq, reflected in child mortality rates under Saddam Hussein, is the repair of water treatment facilities. "The rates steadily declined during the 1980s, and then beginning in the late 1980s all the way up to now, the rates began to climb back up again," said Mr. Natsios. "They went down to 50 kids per thousand who would die before they were five. It's now 131. And it's shameful that that has been allowed to happen."

Mr. Natsios says teams of experts are in the southern Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr, ready to travel to each of the approximately 250 water treatment facilities in Iraq to assess their condition.

"We are going to send teams out the minute the security situation allows. We will look [at them] the buildings already exist, the equipment is there," he said. "In some cases, the plants work fine and the water is fine. In other areas, it appears they don't work at all, all you can do is pump water out of the river un-treated. We need to distinguish which are in which category. The ones that need new equipment, we are going to install new equipment fairly quickly and train; that's the second thing we're going to do, is training for the people who run the plants."

On Wednesday, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, complained that not enough is being done by the United States to help restore order and repair electric and water facilities.

At the Pentagon Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said retired General Jay Garner will go to Baghdad once the security situation stabilizes. Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S. officials will "go in at exactly the right moment and do a very good job."

At the same briefing, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, said General Garner, despite being still outside Iraq, is already overseeing efforts to restore water supplies and electricity.