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Expert: Iraq's Natural Resources  Facilitate Recovery - 2003-04-23


As international leaders are trying to work out the most effective ways of healing the war-torn Iraq, the head of one of the world's most prominent humanitarian organizations says Iraq has all of the resources necessary to make a quick recovery. James Donahower has more on a conference on Iraq Wednesday in New York.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee provides humanitarian aid to victims of oppression and conflict the world over. IRC President George Rupp notes that Iraq is extremely well off in comparison to many regions of the world.

"This is a very fertile country. This is not an impoverished country. This is not an uneducated country," he said. "It has been horrifically victimized by the regime of Saddam Hussein and by the disastrous consequences of the economic policies that have had to be developed over the last 12 years due to sanctions."

For example, Mr. Rupp says once Iraq's agricultural infrastructure is restored, the nation will be able to feed itself and divert funds previously spent on food to other aspects of the rebuilding process. He says further that it will become a net exporter of grain.

The IRC currently has five teams in Iraq and surrounding countries restoring water, sanitation, and primary health care, and working with displaced persons. But Mr. Rupp notes that Iraq's ample resources will make the group's stint in the country relatively short.

"The humanitarian emergency in Iraq, within three to six months, is no longer going to be as acute as the emergency in many other parts of the world," he said. "Our concern is to act where we have a comparative advantage, namely in water and sanitation and related matters, and then move on to other areas of the world that need our services far more than Iraq will, because Iraq has, unless it is very badly managed, has the capacity to be back on its feet really quite quickly."

Many humanitarian observers say Iraq's recovery will depend on how it is managed, and who by.

U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Thardoor says Iraq must establish its sovereignty as soon as possible because any questions about who is running the country will have devastating economic effects.

"Buyers and shippers will have real issues buying a product to which somebody else might assert legal claim," he said. "This is something I think people need to be very conscience of. These are issues of international law, not merely petty concerns, but fundamental ones."

Mr. Thardoor says the United Nations should take over for the United States and United Kingdom as soon as coalition forces have established a secure state and, in turn, give power over to an Iraqi interim government as soon as possible.

Mr. Thandoor says the transformation which took place in Afghanistan after the removal of the Taliban could serve as a model for Iraq, moving forward.

He and Mr. Rupp discussed the issue at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.