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World

First EU Official Makes Visit To Postwar Iraq

Poul Nielson, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, pays a two-day visit to Iraq in a show of European Union support and solidarity for the Iraqi people.

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European Union Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson (right) is in Baghdad

Even though the EU maintained it wouldn't willingly pay for the reconstruction of Iraq if the U.S. failed to obtain United Nations authority for war, the world's biggest aid donor is now keen on getting involved in efforts to rebuild the war-torn country.

Commissioner Nielson, making the first official EU visit to Iraq and Kuwait on Tuesday, is expected to look into the possibility of establishing an EU Humanitarian Aid office in Baghdad -- so far, aid deliveries are organized from a small-scale office in Amman.

"For more than 10 years now," the Danish commissioner said before his departure, "the Commission has been managing a large humanitarian program in Iraq. Following the outbreak of the war, the Commission committed a further €100 million ($113.3 million), and I would like to assess the humanitarian situation on the ground first-hand ... Both the Iraqi people and our partners need all the support they can get."

Nielson will visit humanitarian projects funded by the Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), meet with ECHO partners including the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society (whose president, Jakob Kellenberger, arrived in Baghdad on Monday for talks with Iraq's American civil administrator, Jay Garner) and other non-government organizations. Further ECHO partners include UNICEF, Enfants du Monde, Premiere Urgence, Médecins du Monde, CARE, Aide Médicale Internationale, Architects for People in Need and Télécommunications sans Frontières.

The role of the U.N.

Approximately €22.5 million of over €100 million earmarked by the European Commission to help the Iraqi people in the aftermath of war has already been deployed. But deliveries are often hampered by the fraught safety situation. The EU's first aid delivery, for example, was held up for over week after the U.S. refused permission for its plane to land in Baghdad.

Many International aid agencies and countries which opposed the U.S.-led war have called for the United Nations to be the central player in Iraq's reconstruction, a move opposed by the United States.

But aid group Oxfam International's regional coordinator, Alex Renton, says the current instability within civilian Iraq poses an obstacle to nation-building and accuses the occupying powers of "failing to protect civilians and the fabric of life inside Iraq."

EU commissioner Nielson, meanwhile, has also said that "the main concern at the moment in the delivery of humanitarian aid is the lack of secure access. I shall also be stressing the central role that the United Nations should be allowed to play in coordinating the aid effort."

Controversial contracts

In an interview with Reuters, Jo Nickolls, Oxfam's policy advisor on Iraq, emphasized that "the work of reconstruction needs to be led by Iraqis and done for the benefit of Iraqis, not for commercial corporations appointed by the U.S. and its allies."

But Washington has given major U.S. corporations multi-million dollar contracts for reconstruction work in postwar Iraq. Nickolls says that Oxfam is concerned that the U.N. is so far not as involved "as they should" be and points out that "the successful reconstruction of Iraq is dependant on the swift establishment of a civilian government that properly represents all parties."

A critic of the U.S.-led war, Nielson's insistence that Europe would also prefer to see the UN in charge of running the country may well fall on deaf ears. So far, Washington's hard-liners has given responsibility for managing reconstruction efforts to retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner and American companies it has hired under contract.

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