UN chief issues secret orders for war in Iraq
From James Bone in New York
Agencies told to prepare for civil unrest and 900,000 refugees
THE United Nations is making secret contingency plans for a war that would halt all Iraqi oil production, “seriously degrade” the country’s electricity system, provoke civil unrest and create 900,000 refugees, The Times has learnt.
Internal UN documents predict that the worst fighting will be in the three central governorates around Baghdad, with the Kurdish-controlled north remaining largely free of conflict. But it will take a month after war breaks out before the predominantly Shia south is calm enough for UN humanitarian workers to work there.
Although formally expressing the hope that war can be averted, UN relief agencies are already positioning emergency supplies and updating evacuation procedures for the hundreds of international staff now inside Iraq.
“The UN expects that there will be full compliance by Iraq . . . and that, consequently, there will be no new humanitarian crisis,” one document says. “Nevertheless, UN agencies must ensure that they are adequately prepared for the full range of possible scenarios.”
Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, is trying to keep the preparations secret for fear of signalling to Iraq that weapons inspections are futile and a US-led attack is inevitable.
But he ordered staff to begin contingency planning last month after the Security Council set tough terms for resumed inspections in Iraq. His Canadian deputy, Louise Fréchette, is chairing regular meetings of officials to prepare for a possible humanitarian crisis.
Confidential UN planning papers paint a grim picture of the effects of an attack against Iraq: they predict that production of oil will cease, the port of Umm Qasr on the Gulf would be shut down, and the bombing of bridges would cripple the railway network and make road travel difficult between the east and west of the country.
The electricity grid would be seriously disrupted, with collateral damage to water and sewage systems. Government stocks of commodities such as grain would also be hit.
Of the 900,000 predicted refugees, the UN estimates that about 100,000 would need immediate help.
“It all seems perfectly reasonable, but when it actually happens, it will be different,” one person who reviewed the papers said. “It always is.”
At an unpublicised meeting in Geneva on December 13, the UN appealed to more than ten donor nations, including Britain, to provide $37 million (£23 million) to fund preparations for a crisis.
The Rome-based World Food Programme said that it had started to put in place sufficient food for 900,000 people for a month. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has a stockpile of supplies for 250,000 people ready to move at 72 hours’ notice, but has only enough tents and blankets for 100,000 people. It could take 12 weeks and $60 million to deliver enough supplies.
The UN Children’s Fund, which has a warehouse in Denmark, has started moving supplies to Iraq and four neighbouring countries for 550,000 people inside Iraq and another 160,000 expected to spill into neighbouring states.
A major source of tension in the planning is the relationship between the emergency operation and the large UN “oil-for-food” programme that has been overseeing relief supplies inside Iraq for the past seven years.
The UN estimates that 16 million Iraqis, or 60 per cent of the population, are highly dependent on the monthly food basket provided under the programme.