U.S. military officials say significant amounts of humanitarian aid are being delivered to southern Iraq and the program will eventually spread throughout the country.
In a briefing from the southern Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr, U.S. Army Colonel David Blackledge told reporters the military is making significant progress toward improving humanitarian conditions for people in southern Iraq.
Colonel Blackledge, who is in charge of coordinating aid efforts among the military, United Nations and other groups, says a new pipeline carrying drinking water has been established from Kuwait and delivery trucks are fanning out in southern Iraq.
The colonel says the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has begun delivering medicine to the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
Colonel Blackledge says most residents in Umm Qasr appear to have a six to eight week supply of food stockpiled, so the initial focus has been on distributing drinking water.
The colonel says the local population has been largely friendly, but security forces are accompanying aid distribution teams to avoid the chaotic scenes that plagued the first deliveries of food and water. "We feel that it is a very permissive environment here in Umm Qasr, " he said. "However, we do provide escorts with the tanker trucks. The first couple of days of the distribution, the people were not sure how long that was going to last, and wanted to get as much as they could. We found that to maintain control of the crowds, it has been helpful to keep the security force with the tanker trucks. We expect that, as people see the distribution is more and more routine, we will be able to back off on that."
Colonel Blackledge, the commander of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade in Iraq, says his top priority is to renew the United Nations' oil for food program, which was suspended just before the war began. Last week, the U.N. Security Council voted to resume the program, which distributed food, medicine and other supplies to more than half of the Iraqi people. "The goal has been to resurrect the oil for food program distribution that has been in place" said Colonel Blackledge. "It has been a very efficient and effective system in Iraq, with numerous food distribution agents. For example, right here in Umm Qasr, there are over 40 food distribution agents. The local people knew who their distributor was to go get food, and we want to put that back in place, since there wasn't any functioning system, and develop it from there."
Colonel Blackledge says United Nations officials visited southern Iraq Friday to make a preliminary assessment of the humanitarian needs there.
He says an initial delivery of 30 truckloads of food has come from Kuwait. He says teams are currently delivering packages of rice, cooking oil, tea and sugar to the Iraqi people.