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Looting Delays Food Aid Delivery

Continued instability in Baghdad and other cities is preventing the delivery of needed supplies to the Iraqi people, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

According to the Washington Post, the International Committee of the Red Cross has several trucks ready to roll from Jordan, bearing food and hygiene supplies for 50,000, and a similar convoy on standby in Kuwait.

"At any minute, the relief people are ready to take to the road," Michele Mercier of the Red Cross in Jordan told the paper. "The only thing they're waiting for is a green light on security."

The Post reports aid workers are pressing the United States to shift more attention to the aid situation now that major combat operations have been declared over.

"You don't want to send a food convoy into a crowd of looters," said World Food Program spokesman Khaled Mansour. "Things aren't fully under control in the capital yet."

In the first days of the war, food supplies were not a major worry — because of the long build-up to the attack and the Iraqi government's decision to distribute double rations, people were able to stockpile emergency reserves.

The initial efforts of the Red Cross, virtually the only international group to remain active inside Iraq throughout the campaign, focused not on food, but on restoring water supplies to cities like Basra and distributing medical supplies to hospitals.

While the water situation has improved in Basra and elsewhere, medical care remains a major concern, especially after several hospitals were apparently ransacked by looters.

Now food is becoming a greater need, as the collapse in the regime and the chaos in many Iraqi cities have prevented people involved in food supply from going to work, shut off power to plants and stores, prevented trucks from shipping food, and likely caused a collapse in the currency held by most Iraqis.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday that American officials are "hard at work" to improve living conditions in Iraq, where the humanitarian condition "is improving on a daily basis."

Powell said there's "a huge amount of humanitarian equipment and supplies" flowing into the battered country. He says aid workers will be able to better serve Iraqi citizens as hostilities decline.

A convoy of 33 trucks carrying 684 metric tons of wheat flour arrived Monday in Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq. A delivery of 384 metric tons was distributed to 41,000 people there Sunday.

But exposing the emerging food problem to the outside world will be a difficult task for aid agencies. The ICRC on Tuesday ruled out the possibility of letting journalists travel with its aid convoys in Iraq, citing security considerations.

The ICRC said its own security is based on the fact that it is it is open with all warring parties about its emergency operations.

"At a time when the situation is still unstable, we can only rely for our safety on the knowledge that combatants have of the ICRC's role and the nature of the work we carry out under the protection of the red cross emblem, and on the trust and respect that such knowledge engenders," it said.

"The risk involved in transporting or escorting journalists is simply too great at the present time, both for the journalists themselves and for the ICRC."

Meanwhile, the humanitarian efforts of U.S. troops are concentrated on restoring electrical power and water supply, which Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said "remain the key needs, and they are also interrelated."

The power station in Nasariyah is ready to resume functioning, but requires a "jumpstart" that will come from a power station in Basra, as soon as the lines connecting the two stations are repaired.

Similar work is under way in Najaf, Karbala, Samallah, Diwaniyah and Baghdad.

Even as the security situation improved, the ICRC that the impact of earlier looting was only now "becoming more and more visible."

Of nine Baghdad hospitals surveyed by the ICRC on Saturday, four were closed, one was partly closed, two were open but hard to access because of security problems. Two protected by U.S. troops and one protected by citizens remained open.

"Key utilities (generators, AC units, medical equipment, etc.) and other medical or technical equipment that are so vital for these hospitals to resume work are lacking," a statement by the UCRC said.