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Chaos in Iraq Hinders Aid and Normalization Efforts, say Relief Groups - 2003-06-03

Humanitarian organizations in Iraq say security concerns are hampering their efforts to help the Iraqi people.

Nearly eight weeks after Baghdad fell to coalition forces, people remain afraid. There have been numerous reports of children being kidnapped off the streets. Looting continues, although mostly in the south. And some nights, there is gunfire.

Coalition officials say they are increasing the number of military patrols and that more police officers are being hired.

But complaints continue, and not only from local residents. The relief agencies trying to help the Iraqi people say the security situation is still hampering their efforts.

The local spokesman for the U.N. Children's Agency, Geoffrey Keele, says school supplies have arrived, but the lack of security is preventing their distribution.

"We still do not have any real law and order in the country, and that is making it very difficult for us to do our jobs," explained Mr. Keele. "Firstly, for instance, people do not feel safe. They are reluctant to send their children out on to the streets. And for us, we are really desperately trying to get kids back to school right now because after the last couple of months where school was not an option for them, they need to get back into class to finish their exams so they don't lose an entire school year."

Mr. Keele said his agency, UNICEF, is also reluctant to fill the schools with new supplies for fear looters may break in and steal them. Adding to the sense of unease, according to Mr. Keele, is the fact that there is no one available to answer the questions of concerned parents.

"There is no effective authority in the country right now," he said. "We need to have a sense of who is the ministry of education, who is in the ministry of health. How these institutions are going to function. The people of Iraq do not know who they go to for their problems. That is a very big issue because they need to know they can voice their concerns and that they have somebody who is listening."

Coalition officials say they are working as fast as they can to bring life back to some sense of normality but, they say, nation building takes time and people will need to be patient.

In the meantime, hundreds of tons of food have arrived in Iraq and the World Food Program has begun the process of distributing rations throughout the country. But because of looting, that process has been delayed, according to World Food Program spokeswoman Antonia Paradela.

"Restarting the distribution for 27 million Iraqis has been a huge challenge for all partners involved," she said. "The Ministry of Trade has seen their main offices looted and burned, their computers stolen, their records lost, warehouses damaged or looted."

Ms. Paradela says a security force is needed to protect the food warehouses. In addition, she says the relief agencies need a legal system to deal with Iraqis working in the food aid system who may try to sell the food to people who should be getting it for free.