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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- First Shipments Of Humanitarian Aid Trickling In

Near the Iraqi Border, Northern Kuwait; 25 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel is in northern Kuwait. He recently crossed the Kuwaiti border into the southern Iraqi village of Safwan to report on the situation in the wake of advancing U.S. and British troops. He filed this report this afternoon about the first shipments of aid that have begun arriving in southern Iraq. QUESTION: Can you describe the kind of aid that is arriving in southern Iraq?

RECKNAGEL: The first international humanitarian aid has begun trickling into southern Iraq from Kuwait. A Kuwaiti shipment of food and water with a total value of $10 million arrived this morning by sea to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. The port was declared secure late yesterday after sporadic fighting there the previous day. At the same time, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society today sent 10 truckloads of foodstuffs by road to Umm Qasr and Safwan, another Iraqi town just across the border in coalition hands. That followed a much smaller convoy carrying water, which was mobbed by eager Iraqis when it arrived in Safwan yesterday.

QUESTION: What are the specific humanitarian problems in Basra?

RECKNAGEL: The first-aid deliveries come amid mounting international concern over the humanitarian situation in the key southern Iraqi city of Basra. There, some 60 percent of the population of 1.2 million people has been without supplies of clean water since a water-treatment plant when out of service Friday [21 March]. The city is encircled by coalition forces, which are opposed by Iraqi Army units that have withdrawn into the town in preparation for urban fighting.

QUESTION: Can you describe the security situation in Basra?

RECKNAGEL: Britain today declared Basra a military objective, saying the coalition's taking of the city would make it possible to deliver needed aid to the population. That decision changed reported earlier plans to merely cut off Basra while coalition forces advanced toward Baghdad. But London also said the urgency of the humanitarian crisis in Basra has to be weighed against the coalition's concern over minimizing its own losses. UN chief Kofi Annan has called for urgent measures to be taken to restore electricity and water to the population of Basra, saying that "a city of that size cannot afford to go without electricity and water for long."