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March 20, 2003
 
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Annan Urges Both Sides in Iraq to Shield Civilians

Reuters


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March 20

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed regret on Thursday that war had again come to Iraq and called on combatants to do everything possible to protect civilians during the fighting.

"My thoughts today are with the Iraqi people, who face yet another ordeal. I hope that all parties will scrupulously observe the requirements of international humanitarian law and will do everything in their power to shield the civilian population from the grim consequences of war," Annan said.

"The United Nations, for its part, will do whatever it can to bring them assistance and support," he said.

Annan, in a statement he read for television cameras, said it was possible Iraq could have been disarmed peacefully had diplomacy gone on longer.

"Or, if not, the world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy, and therefore commanding wider support, than is now the case," he said.

"Today, despite the best efforts of the international community and the United Nations, war has come to Iraq for the third time in a quarter of a century," he said.

Annan had pressed for months for the United States and Britain to seek the backing of the 15-nation Security Council for any military action against Baghdad, to give it the cover of international law.

But Washington and London dropped efforts on Monday to obtain passage of a council resolution paving the way for war after failing to get the needed nine "yes" votes and no veto from any permanent council member. The council's five permanent members include France, Russia and China as well as the United States and Britain.

The U.S.-led attack on Iraq began early on Thursday local time with an initial attack that U.S. and British officials said was aimed at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other senior elements of the Iraqi leadership who had been pinpointed by U.S. intelligence agencies.

With the war under way, Annan encouraged the international community to come together to "confront the realities of the present, however harsh," rather than dwell on past divisions.

The next challenge for the United Nations was to address the humanitarian situation inside Iraq and prepare for reconstruction after the conflict ended.

Annan has prepared a report to the Security Council on changes that would be needed in the existing U.N. humanitarian programs to adapt them to a post-war situation.

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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