Archive for Thursday, March 27, 2003

First relief convoy arrives

March 27, 2003


— The first sizable relief convoy rolled into Iraq on Wednesday bringing water, tuna, crackers and other food to Iraqis, some of whom cheered as they swarmed allied troops handing out supplies. "Eat, eat!" shouted an Iraqi boy of about 10, pointing to his mouth as the trucks lumbered past.

The relief effort had been delayed for days by a sandstorm, mined waterways and fierce fighting across southern Iraq. Three days after President Bush promised "massive amounts" of humanitarian aid, seven battered tractor-trailers entered Umm Qasr, escorted by U.S. soldiers.

They carried hundreds of cases of water stacked on three of the semis, as well as boxes of tuna, crackers, sweets and other food.

"We planned for 30 trucks but we only got seven loaded because of the severe sandstorm," said E.J. Russell of the Humanitarian Operations Center, a joint U.S.-Kuwaiti agency. The storm cut visibility to 100 yards.

Iraqi youths cheered and swarmed British troops as they handed out yellow meal packets and bottled water. The troops, already in the city, were not part of the aid convoy.

Two tanker trucks filled with fresh water were mobbed by crowds of Iraqi civilians lugging bottles, jars and other containers.

"Very good, but it's not enough," one man shouted. "It's not enough, only two tankers. Not enough, two vehicles. Not enough, please. We need a good water supply."

British Capt. Brad Percival said allied forces were eager to win the trust of Iraqi civilians.

"This is the first time the water has been brought to this location," said Percival of the 23rd Pioneer Regiment. "At the moment they're afraid we're just going to drive off and leave them dry."

"We come to these places for set periods of time. We vary where we go so that hopefully they get to trust us and they know we're going to be there .... They don't have to rush. Today is the first time here. Tomorrow, when we come back, hopefully it'll be less hectic."

An American soldier, speaking in Arabic, announced the arrival of water through a public address system fitted to the roof of a Humvee, the Daily Telegraph of London reported. "Fresh water, fresh water," the crackling voice said. "Please take as much as you can in 20 minutes before we move to another location."

In the nearby town of Safwan, a smaller aid convoy brought by Kuwait's Red Crescent Society was greeted by hundreds of Iraqis.

Many were young men, some shoeless and dirty, who began fighting over the white boxes of aid as soon as the truck doors opened. Aid workers tossed out the boxes, which disappeared into a forest of grasping hands.

British soldiers tried to keep order, but the crowd dissolved into a chaotic mass of pushing and shoving.

A Red Crescent Society official in Kuwait said five trucks were sent Wednesday to Iraq, loaded with 45,000 boxes of food, and more would be heading out today.

Many Iraqis have about five weeks of food left, according to estimates by the World Food Program. About 13 million people -- 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million -- are completely dependent on food handouts.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned the United States that it was legally responsible for providing relief aid to Iraq and was meeting Wednesday with the heads of U.N. humanitarian agencies to discuss the crisis.

The World Food Program said it would make its biggest single request for cash in its history -- more than $1 billion to help feed the war-stricken nation for about six months.

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