No More Neutral in Iraq

New consequences of a 'humanitarian' war

"A combination of universal humanist morality and national security has been cited as justification for Western and US-British interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq," writes Bradol. "Ethics and politics have become reconciled on the initiative of a handful of avant-gardist states that now consider the defence of fundamental liberties throughout the world as an essential component of their national interests."

That is different from providing relief to those in need, and suggests that humanitarian agencies, more than ever before, risk being caught up in a project far more ambitious than their missions.

"When you are under the umbrella of any coalition," said Dr. Rony Brauman, a former head of MSF who now consults for the organization, "you are perceived as one of the forces mobilized." When there is a rejection of such a coalition, he noted, humanitarian organizations run the risk of being similarly dismissed.

"In Kosovo or Timor, it's okay, because most of the population would welcome the [foreign] presence," he said. "But it's risky for us to be in Iraq or Afghanistan. Part of the population thinks we are kind of a social member of the military occupying force."

Though MSF retains a presence in Iraq, Brauman said the organization decided early on that the country wasn't a priority. The expected humanitarian disaster never occurred, and MSF, which specializes in emergency health care, decided that Iraqi doctors were more than capable and were well-enough supplied.

Brauman also says in Just Wars that American NGOs going into Iraq were subject to severe restrictions from the U.S. and were expected to function as an arm of the government.

"It's quite specific," said Brauman. "People in general do not deal with U.S. forces the way they deal with other forces. When you are working with British or French troops, it's much easier." Brauman said that during the first Gulf war, MSF worked alongside U.S. troops in northern Iraq, and cooperation with the Americans was "excellent."

"But now if you're seen with U.S. troops, it's much more difficult," he said.

Research assistance: Natasha Degen

Dr. Rony Brauman will be speaking at an event moderated by Samantha Power, Thursday, April 15, 7 p.m. at F.I.T.

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