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Analysis: American And International Agencies Prepare To Provide Humanitarian Aid In Iraq In The Event Of A War

Relief Efforts in Post-War Iraq

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan.

As the US prepares for a possible war with Iraq, it's also making plans for life in Iraq after the war is over. US officials have said an American military commander would administer Iraq immediately after a war. That means the US military would be in charge of efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, assistance that could include providing basic necessities like food and water, as well as health care. The US will get some help; the United Nations is preparing to feed up to 10 million Iraqi civilians and provide relief to over two and a half million refugees. And many non-governmental relief organizations, also known as NGOs, are standing by in countries like Jordan, ready to go into Iraq as soon as possible.

So how will the US, along with the UN and other relief organizations, provide food, water, shelter and medicine? How does such a massive operation get off the ground? What happens if electrical and water systems are damaged during the war? And what about the possibility of political violence and revenge killings among Iraq's different ethnic and religious groups in a post-Saddam world? How would that affect humanitarian efforts?

This hour in the program, providing humanitarian relief to Iraq during and after military action. Do you work for an aid agency? Have you ever worked with refugees or disaster victims? What questions do you have about the relief plans for Iraq? Give us a call. Our number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Joining us now from his office here in Washington, DC, is Mark Grossman. He's the undersecretary of State for political affairs.

Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. Grossman.

Mr. MARK GROSSMAN (Undersecretary of State For Political Affairs): Lynn, it's a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

NEARY: Mr. Grossman, the administration recently set up a new office called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, and that's to develop a plan for providing the Iraqis with humanitarian aid. First of all, tell us a little bit about what's in that plan.

Mr. GROSSMAN: Well, first, Lynn, let me say that I thought your introduction was exactly right, which is to say that if there has to be military action, and of course, the president has repeatedly stressed the hope that we won't have to have military action, but if there's military action, we want to demonstrate to Iraqis that we're there to liberate them, not to occupy them, and one of the most important things will be to deal with the immediate humanitarian assistance to civilians. And as you said, there's been an immense amount of planning that has been going on over the past few months, both inside of the US government and, as you rightly said, with the United Nations, with non-governmental organizations, to try to deal with these issues. So the office that you refer to is--we're now trying to bring everything together so that if there has to be military action, immediately in its aftermath, that people would be prepared to deal with some of these humanitarian issues.

NEARY: What's the first priority in terms of these humanitarian issues? Is it health care? Is it basic needs like water, which possibly could--the infrastructure for water could be damaged, possibly?

Mr. GROSSMAN: Well, I think an immediate objective would be what we might call humanitarian assistance, which I put as food, medicine, water, fuel; all of those things would have to be supplied or, as you say, if there's damage, restored. And obviously people who flee their homes in fear would also have to be cared for, and I think those would be the immediate objectives.

NEARY: Now does this mean military forces would go from fighting the enemy to protecting the enemy, and how well prepared would troops be for that? Is there training going on?

Mr. GROSSMAN: Well, I think it's very important to recognize, first of all, that the Iraqi people here are not the enemy. So when you say they'd move from fighting the enemy to protecting them, I don't think that's quite fair. What we'd be interested in is obviously defeating the Iraqi military if it had to come to that, but the Iraqi people here are the victims of Saddam, and so we want them to recognize immediately that they have been freed, and are not then subject to another life of difficulty. So what we would be trying to do is immediately minimize the damage, work with the humanitarian infrastructure. We would rely on civilian relief agencies. I think our military would obviously have a very important role in this, but in all of these contingencies over the past few years, what happens is that you rely primarily on civilian organizations, the NGOs, the United Nations, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, to do this work, and so one of the things that we've been doing for months now is being in the closest possible consultation and coordination with the NGOs. For example, there's a meeting each week with about 30 important NGOs to make sure that everybody is going down the same path here.

NEARY: What happens if there are chemical or biological attacks? How does that affect humanitarian work? Can humanitarian workers from NGOs, for instance, come into the country under circumstances like that?

Mr. GROSSMAN: Well, obviously, one of the things that we have been saying and President Bush has said on a number of occasions is that it would a huge mistake for the Iraqis to use those kinds of weapons and I think the president has said that anyone who's in that chain of command shouldn't carry out those kinds of instructions. What we've been doing, though, is working, obviously, with our military forces, and very interestingly, with a number of allies and coalition partners to get together countries that have some experience in the control of these weapons of mass destruction, in what's called consequence management, and so we would try to do the very best we could as quickly as we could.

NEARY: And let me ask you about a big concern that I've seen in some of the reading I've done, and that is what might happen to the infrastructure in Iraq. For instance, we were talking about--you were saying that providing water, for instance, would be a major priority.

Mr. GROSSMAN: Right.

NEARY: What happens if the water supply is destroyed? What happens if electricity, power, is destroyed?

Mr. GROSSMAN: Well, one of the things that I know our colleagues at the Agency for International Development have done extremely well over these past few months is develop contingency plans in exactly these areas, and obviously, where you start this plan is at this point unknowable, unfortunately, because you don't know what the level of destruction will be. Obviously, our military forces will be attempting to do as minimum damage as possible. But you're right. I think it's important to plan for things that don't go very well, and so for example, I know our colleagues at AID have very detailed plans for the restoration of the electricity grid, for the restoration of water, for the restoration of power, and they've been working on these plans for some months, and I'm very impressed with them. And as I say, I hope that they don't have to be used, but you ask good questions and we've been trying to consider those answers.

NEARY: And one other thing--I know you make a distinction between the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government...

Mr. GROSSMAN: Absolutely.

NEARY: ...in terms of the Iraqi people not being the enemy. On the other hand, the Iraqi people may regard the US military as the enemy. The very people who now perhaps are trying to assist them in humanitarian ways might be the same people they regard as those who caused the problems in the first place. How do you deal with that?

Mr. GROSSMAN: Well, first of all, I can imagine that the Iraqi people are more than tired of the regime that they've been living under for all these years, and second, one of the reasons that we've done so much planning and have tried to be so objective-oriented in this regard is so that if our military forces have to be used, then the thing that the Iraqi people will see immediately after their liberation are people who are coming to restore exactly the kinds of institutions and efforts that you were talking about. So I'd like to see, you know, Iraqis recognize immediately that the United States and its coalition allies are there to restore the water, to get the power back up, and also to consider the areas of future governance of Iraq so that people there have a chance to run their own lives.

NEARY: And one last question.

Mr. GROSSMAN: Please.

NEARY: How much is this going to cost?

Mr. GROSSMAN: Well, no one knows how much it's going to cost, but we have committed, and the president has committed, to doing this job, to meeting these objectives, to have an Iraq that's democratic and unified and multiethnic, no weapons of mass destruction, at peace with its neighbors and we're going to do those things and we'll stay there as long as it takes and not one day longer.

NEARY: Well, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. GROSSMAN: My pleasure.

NEARY: Mark Grossman is undersecretary of State for political affairs. He spoke to us from his office here in Washington, DC.

And with us here in Studio 3A now is Sandra Mitchell. She's vice president of the International Rescue Committee. The IRC is one of the non-governmental organizations which would send relief workers immediately into Iraq if war does happen.

Thanks for being here, Sandra.

Also retired Army General William Nash. He was an armored brigade commander in Desert Storm, where he spent several months in southern Iraq providing security and humanitarian support to Iraqis there. He also commanded US Army forces in Bosnia.

Thanks also for joining us.

Major General WILLIAM NASH (US Army, Retired): Thank you, Lynn. Good to be with you.

NEARY: Let me start with you, Sandra. How much interaction has your group actually had with the administration and this new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance?

Ms. SANDRA MITCHELL (Vice President, International Rescue Committee): Well, the new office that's been set up, we've been asking for the terms of reference for that office to determine exactly what the tasks will be, and have been told that they're classified, so it's still a little unclear to us.

NEARY: What do you mean by terms of reference?

Ms. MITCHELL: The terms of reference, what the office will actually be doing, and what their activities are, what their planned tasks are, what they'll be looking at, and it's good to hear Mr. Grossman's description of that now. As far as regular interactions with the government, we do have these weekly meetings that he's discussed, but for the most part, the dialogue is very much one-way, since requests to the US government about what their plans are for a humanitarian response have not really been forthcoming. We have been trying to gain that information for several months now.

NEARY: What is your reaction to what Mr. Grossman just had to say, about plans that are being made?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, I think he's right. There is a great absence of capacity within Iraq and the region to respond to a humanitarian situation in the event that there is any type of military intervention. This is the result of years of sanctions which continue to be in effect, American and UN sanctions, as well as just very difficult funding problems in being able to get the resources necessary to do that. So while it's very prudent for the military to be doing this type of planning, they have not, to date, been sharing with the humanitarian community exactly what their plans are.

NEARY: Major General William Nash, as someone with firsthand experience in relief work in Iraq, what was your reaction to what you heard from the undersecretary?

Maj. Gen. NASH: Well, it pleases me to hear that, in his view, there's so much energy being put into the planning, but I remain concerned about the proper preparations in terms of specific coordination and the placement of not only the supplies, but the people necessary to execute the operations, because there's a number of things to be done, and it's not linear in nature. In other words, it's something that--much has to be done all at once. And second, I remain unconvinced that the international effort is as complete as it needs to be, and part of the difficulty, of course, of building a political consensus on how to pursue the actions against Saddam's regime is reflected in the difficulty in planning for a post-war situation, because folks don't want to talk about that, or become too involved in that, because it would lead to a commitment to the war.

NEARY: What was the situation that you faced in Iraq when you were in a similar position?

Maj. Gen. NASH: Yeah, in early March of 1991, shortly after the end of Operation Desert Storm, my brigade of about 5,000 soldiers was assigned to an area about 30 miles wide and 15 miles or so deep into Iraq, centered on the town of Safwan, where the cease-fire had been signed. It was a population of--initially we believed to be between 10 and 15,000, but it quickly grew to 35 to 40,000 people because of the displaced persons coming from the north, trying to escape the Iraqi regime at the time. And I guess my two impressions are that number one, we went from being very smart, because our intelligence had been focused on the military challenges of defeating the Iraqi forces, to being semi-blind, because now we went from military issues to public order, humanitarian, political issues that we faced in the area, so...

NEARY: Did you feel you were ready for that transition?

Maj. Gen. NASH: No, we were not ready for that transition, but as good soldiers, we adapted and started trying to find ways to communicate and though we were thin on interpreters, we worked the problem. And then most notably, as Secretary Grossman indicated, the humanitarian challenges, primarily of food, water, shelter and medical support, was a significant challenge, and the same soldiers that had been fighting but a few days before were taking on those challenges.

NEARY: Sandra Mitchell, what would you say is the main priority of humanitarian efforts in the event of a war in Iraq? What would be the major priority that would have to take place first?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, the current situation in Iraq is pretty dismal on the humanitarian front. You have a population that's already very, very vulnerable. Forty-eight percent of the population is under the age of 18. It's 23 million people, the majority of which are already dependent on the United Nations oil-for-food program and international handouts as it is. We would expect that the oil-for-food program will collapse in the event of a military intervention. Getting that restarted, which is the primary means of distributing food and medicines in Iraq, is going to be of critical, critical importance, and again, so far, we've heard no plans.

NEARY: Sandra Mitchell is the vice president of the International Rescue Committee. We're also talking with Major General William Nash. We're talking about the advance planning for humanitarian relief in Iraq in event of war, and we're taking your calls at (800) 989-TALK. I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan.

Here are some of the stories in the headlines today here at NPR News. NPR's Greg Allen reports on today's arrest of four people suspected of financing a Palestinian terrorist group. Attorney General John Ashcroft says the arrests were made possible by a new court ruling.

And "All Things Considered" host Michele Norris talks with Lord George Robertson, who is general-secretary of NATO. Robertson offers NATO's view on military war in Iraq.

Both of these stories on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

On TALK OF THE NATION, we are talking about preparations for relief assistance in Iraq in the event of a war. Have you ever worked in an international aid agency? We'd like to hear about your experiences. Our number is (800) 989-TALK, and the e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Our guests are Sandra Mitchell, vice president of the International Rescue Committee, and retired Army General William Nash, an armored brigade commander in Desert Storm who spent several months in southern Iraq providing security and humanitarian support to the Iraqis.

Sandra Mitchell, let's talk a little bit more about coordination. How you do you--you work for an NGO, non-governmental organization. We've talked about the fact that the UN is going to be providing some assistance. The United States, obviously, is gearing up. There may be other countries involved in this. Who coordinates all that? How does that all come together?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, preferably the United Nations would be coordinating any type of a humanitarian response. Coordination that's led by one of the belligerent governments is always a very difficult prospect in order to get additional organizations to come on board and provide assistance. Working with belligerent governments is very difficult for humanitarian organizations because of the principles that govern our community, so the United Nations does tend to take the lead in these areas on coordinating an international response like this.

NEARY: General Nash, you seemed to express a concern about how coordination might be going on right now earlier. I wonder if you could expand on that or...

Maj. Gen. NASH: Well, first of all, I think Sandra brings up a very important point. The line between liberation and occupation is in the eye of the beholder, not in the eye of one of the belligerents that declares the purpose of the operation, and the failure to incorporate international organizations such as the United Nations, the high commissioner for refugees, and the like makes the whole process very difficult from an international political viewpoint.

Likewise, I think it's important to understand the military is faced with a number of very important tasks to accomplish, and they're not sequential. They all have to take place at once: the defeat of the Iraqi military, the ousting of Saddam and his regime, the finding, securing of the weapons of mass destruction and beginning the process to destroy them, and lastly establishing the conditions in transitioning to the post-conflict reconstruction work. The point is, it's not the aftermath of the war that the reconstruction begins. The humanitarian challenges will begin during the war at the very start. I would submit to you there will be Iraqi people and Iraqi territory under US control very quickly after the initiation of hostilities, and some number of the population, be it 500 or 5,000 or 50,000, we will have accepted the responsibility for their welfare by virtue of the scheme or maneuver of the attack.

NEARY: Sandra, do your people, for instance, go in while hostilities are ongoing?

Ms. MITCHELL: Yeah. That's a very difficult security call to make, but an organization like mine often is working during conflicts, in conflict zones, very carefully done based on our neutrality principles and ensuring and getting the support from both sides, that we are there to deliver aid in a non-political way. So we would hope to have access during a conflict if there is a need for humanitarian assistance, but those security calls are made on a day-by-day basis.

NEARY: Is this one of the questions you still have outstanding, that you're not quite sure whether you're going to be allowed in and how you're going to be protected if you're in there?

Ms. MITCHELL: That's right. That's right. We do not know what the plans are for the US military if there is an intervention as to how quickly NGOs would be allowed in. Now there are some NGOs that are already in Iraq. The International Committee for the Red Cross is already there. They may stay during a conflict. We would hope to have access as soon as populations are in need of assistance.

NEARY: General Nash, you wanted to add something.

Maj. Gen. NASH: Well, I wanted to add something because in the wake of this attack and however it occurs, there is not only a requirement for humanitarian assistance created almost immediately; the security vacuum that occurs as a result of the defeat of the regime requires some efforts be made to establish a public security environment for the people of Iraq as well as for the aid workers that are there to help, and initially, this has to come from the military.

NEARY: All right. If you'd like to join our discussion about preparations for humanitarian assistance in Iraq in the event that there is a war, please give us a call at (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And let's go to Chris, in Eugene, Oregon.

Hi, Chris.

CHRIS (Caller): Hello. My question is for General Nash. We've all seen in the past campaigns in Yugoslavia, and in Iraq before, the extremely hazardous effects of depleted uranium weaponry, and I just wanted to know if there's been any addressing of these munitions as to the way that we're going to clean up the water afterwards, and also how the fallout might affect even our men and women.

Maj. Gen. NASH: Well, I would say that the science with respect to the impacts of the use of depleted uranium are not universally accepted, and I'm not sure it's quite the effect. But the security effect that a postwar situation will face will be that of mines and unexploded ordnance. Now the US military won't be using mines, but they are subject to having Iraqi mines throughout the area. But the fact that there will be unexploded ordnance, including from, mostly likely, cluster bombs, will have a significant impact on the ability to move around certain areas, mostly military use areas which, fortunately, should not be high-population areas. But the depleted uranium impacts, I think certainly in the short term, are not consequential, and the science is not yet proven that that is a long-term impact.

CHRIS: I understand that depleted uranium has a half-life of over a million years. You don't think that that's a long-term impact? You...

Maj. Gen. NASH: Well, I would tell you that my personal experience has been, where I have been personally exposed to a great deal of depleted uranium rounds that were fired, that there's little evidence that they had impact on the health of the soldiers.

NEARY: All right. Let's take another call from Mike in Baltimore, Maryland.

Hi, Mike.

MIKE (Caller): Hi, how are you?

NEARY: Good, thanks. Go ahead.

MIKE: I'm a physician and a public health worker. I've just returned from a humanitarian assessment in Iraq, and I agree with the IRC official that the oil-for-food program and the distribution of food is a key issue and a key vulnerability. And my question is to the general. If we don't have active and proactive coordination, there's no way to re-establish that network, especially when NGOs are massing at the border but there's very little NGO capacity within the country right now, and I can take my answer off the air.

NEARY: OK, thanks for calling.

Maj. Gen. NASH: OK. Well, I agree with you, both with respect to the oil-for-food and the requirement that as this fight begins the humanitarian challenges are going to commence immediately, and the military is going to have to accept responsibility for that early-on aid, especially in and around areas that have had combat in the near term. So we agree the capacity within the country is very limited, though again, the Iraqi people, if given the necessary resources and some coordination, I'm sure, can do a lot of it for themselves.

NEARY: We're talking about plans for relief assistance in Iraq in the event that there is a war with Iraq. We'd like to hear from our listeners. Some of you may have been in countries that experienced war as volunteers with relief organizations, perhaps on medical teams. We'd like to hear about your experiences, so give us a call at (800) 989-TALK. That's (800) 989-8255, and the e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And joining us now from his office in Falls Church, Virginia, is Dr. Ali Al-Attar(ph). He was forced to leave Iraq back in the late '70s, and he's lived in the United States for 11 years. Dr. Al-Attar is the medical director of Dominion Clinic in Falls Church, Virginia.

Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Dr. ALI Al-ATTAR (Medical Director, Dominion Clinic): It's my honor.

NEARY: Dr. Al-Attar, do you have plans to return to Iraq if there is a war to help rebuild the country?

Dr. AL-ATTAR: Absolutely, and we always like to go back to our mother country to help the people of Iraq after all these long years of atrocity and brutality of the regime.

NEARY: How difficult do you think it would be to get into the country? Do you expect there would be any obstacles? What would you have to overcome to get there?

Dr. AL-ATTAR: I think the Iraqi people are going to welcome anybody who is going to help them free themselves from this regime, and they will welcome definitely a peaceful solution, and that means that the international community is asked to put a lot of pressure on the current regime to leave power and leave the country. If that happens, it will be a very good outcome for the region, for the Iraqi people and for the United States.

NEARY: Now is your idea for yourself simply to go and provide some kind of medical assistance? Do you have political goals as well, or what are you thinking that you could do?

Dr. AL-ATTAR: I'm a professional. I'm not a politician. But I'd like to participate in rebuilding my country, my original country. And the rebuilding will take care, the infrastructure for health, for education, for economy, and that goes hand-by-hand. And as far as I'm concerned personally, I'd like to have the opportunity to help that country to rebuild because the people of Iraq deserve a good infrastructure and good health.

NEARY: You've been in this country for 11 years. I imagine Iraq has changed a great deal since then. What do you hear from the country? Do you have relatives there? What are you hearing about what the situation is like there?

Dr. AL-ATTAR: The situation is getting worse on daily basis, and the people are anxious, and their lives stand still. And there is a lot of corruption in the ranks of the government and bribes, and the economy is very bad. Poverty level is increasing. And this is all because of the regime itself, causing this unfair embargo on its people by not complying with the UN resolutions.

NEARY: OK. Well, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Dr. AL-ATTAR: Pleasure.

NEARY: Dr. Ali Al-Attar(ph) is a medical director of Dominion Clinics. We spoke to him at his office in Falls Church, Virginia.

Sandra Mitchell, how could you work with somebody like Dr. Al-Attar? Is it possible for the NGOs like yours to work with Iraqis who want to go back and help?

Ms. MITCHELL: Oh, absolutely. Our organization, our field missions around the world are primarily staffed by national staff members. We have very few internationals that are actually in the large missions. We rely greatly on people like the doctor that has just spoken and rely on the people that are living in the villages as well, so it's crucial that the Iraqis lead any reconstruction efforts and take the lead in the humanitarian assistance. We're there to provide additional capacity to whatever infrastructure is there and to help them build that infrastructure from the bottom up, if it's destroyed. So it's critical that the Iraqis play a very strong role in this.

NEARY: And do you try and work with somebody like Dr. Al-Attar who's here in this country? Are you now trying to like, say, recruit people who--Iraqi exiles, people who are living in exile in this country or other countries and try and get them to go back?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, certainly, all of the humanitarian organizations are collecting names of people and rosters for any type of a relief operation and ongoing reconstruction efforts thereafter, and we welcome applications from the doctor and anyone else.

NEARY: Sandra Mitchell is vice president of the International Rescue Committee. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

G...

Gen. NASH: I...

NEARY: Go ahead, General Nash.

Gen. NASH: Are we on the air?

NEARY: Yeah, go ahead.

Gen. NASH: Are we on the air?

NEARY: Yeah.

Gen. NASH: Yeah, OK. I just wasn't sure if we were taking a break or not. I just wanted to add, the fact is is that I think diaspora like Dr. Al-Attar who comes back will be, in fact, welcomed, especially as they focus on the issues of health and education in improving the life of the individual citizen. I think one of the difficult challenges that the United States and the international community as a whole will face is those that return assuming a right to political power in place of Saddam's regime. And there, I think while we have to utilize folks like the Iraqi National Congress and the various Kurdish organizations in the north, there's also 18 to 20 million Iraqis that are under Saddam Hussein's direct control today, and there has to be a time allowed for their political aspirations to come forth. And so an early transition can be as difficult as staying too long. So it's a very difficult balance that we need to do of bringing back some diaspora, but at the same time allowing the people that are now relieved from the yoke of Saddam Hussein to rise up and contribute to their own destiny.

NEARY: I have an e-mail here from a Lawrence Swain(ph), who says, `I would like to know how one goes about becoming a relief worker or whether there will be a demand for relief workers in the event of a war, whether in Iraq or some other areas? Are all the positions volunteer? Is some stipend provided to cover expenses at home while working overseas?'

Sandra Mitchell, perhaps you can take that.

Ms. MITCHELL: Sure. There's, unfortunately, more work than workers in the humanitarian business, and the best way for anybody that's interested in joining a humanitarian organization is to surf the Web sites and apply for these jobs. They are paid positions for most of the humanitarian organizations, like my own. The salaries--you can make a living on them; perhaps not as much as maybe working in the private sector, but certainly salaries have gone up in recent years. There are also internships available and there are some volunteer organizations, but the humanitarian community as a whole is a professional organization, professional community, and the requirements tend to be quite rigorous, particularly in the health and education field.

NEARY: Let's see if we can get one more call in. Al in Eugene, Oregon.

Hi, Al.

AL (Caller): Hello. Yes. I would like to ask Sandra about the sanitation situation. Like there was a show on OPB recently about the sanitation plants that were destroyed in the first war, and what's their situation now and what could happen to them if there is another war?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, certainly, the water and sanitation issues, in addition to the food, are probably the biggest threat and the biggest issue that will have to be overcome in any type of relief operation. Planning assumptions right now by the United Nations in which most of the NGOs are following is that 50 percent of the population could be without fresh water in the event of a military intervention, and this is because the critical infrastructure will be disrupted for a period of time. There has been, as the caller indicated, a lot of damage done to the water system in previous conflicts and also by Saddam Hussein, who's drained the marshes in the south. So water is key, and it will be essential that anybody going into Iraq, whether it's the US military or otherwise, focus on that.

NEARY: OK. Thanks so much for your call.

AL: Thank you.

NEARY: And thanks to both of you for being with us this afternoon. Sandra Mitchell is vice president of the International Rescue Committee. William Nash is a retired Army general, and he is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. They both joined me here in Studio 3A. Thanks for being with us.

And when we come back from a short break, we're going to talk about the Internet as a tool for authoritarian regimes.

I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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