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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Humanitarian Aid Crosses Iraqi Border

UMM QASR, Iraq -- The first sizable relief convoy arrived in Iraq during a sandstorm Wednesday as allied forces struggled to clear the way for more aid shipments, clearing mines and hunting Iraqi fighters around the port of Umm Qasr.

Three days after U.S. President George W. Bush promised "massive amounts" of humanitarian aid, seven large, battered tractor-trailers arrived in Umm Qasr carrying food and water donated by Kuwaitis. The convoy was escorted by U.S. soldiers.

"We planned for 30 trucks but we only got seven loaded because of the severe sandstorm," said E.J. Russell of the Humanitarian Operations Center, a joint U.S.-Kuwaiti agency. The storm cut visibility to about 91 meters.

As the trucks lumbered past blasted buildings on the Iraq-Kuwait border, an Iraqi boy of about 10 pointed to his mouth and shouted "Eat, eat!"

People lined up along the streets, giving thumbs-up signs to the aid convoy as it rolled by and begging for food and cigarettes.

After days of fierce fighting that shut down the city of Umm Qasr, Iraqi youth cheered and swarmed British troops as they handed out yellow meal packets and bottles of water Wednesday. The troops, already in the city, were not part of the aid convoy.

"Umm Qasr is now secure -- as a port and as a town," said Brigadier Jim Dutton of the Royal Marines. The town's deepwater port, the only one in Iraq, is essential for any relief effort.

Plans to bring supplies to Iraqi civilians had been on hold for days because of fighting across southern Iraq. On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the United States is legally responsible for providing relief aid.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer blamed Saddam Hussein's regime for slowing the flow of $105 million in U.S. aid by placing mines in the port of Umm Qasr.

Royal Marine commandos carried out an overnight sweep around the port, searching for Iraqi holdouts. The British said they had enough control over the area to begin sending in ships.

A British ship, the Sir Galahad, moved into position at the mouth of the Khor Abdallah river Tuesday night with 211 tons of food and 101 tons of bottled water. It was to begin the six-hour journey into Umm Qasr on Wednesday.

Iraqis have about five weeks of food left, according to World Food Program estimates. About 13 million people -- 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million -- are completely dependent on food handouts.

The World Food Program, a UN agency, said it would make its biggest single request for cash in its history -- more than $1 billion to help feed the war-stricken nation for about six months.

"This could well turn into the largest humanitarian operation in history," said agency spokesman Trevor Rowe.

Before the war, Iraqis depended on government rations distributed under the UN's oil-for-food program. The 7-year-old program allows Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. The proceeds from oil sales are deposited in a UN-controlled escrow account. The war has thrown the future of the program in doubt.

Annan wants to revive the UN aid program as quickly as possible. A resolution giving him authority to run the program for 45 days is stalled because Russia, Syria and others are insisting the United Nations must not sanction the war or give the United States control over the UN-controlled account, which holds billions of dollars.

Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh accused the United States and Britain of causing the hardships by starting the war and disrupting shipments of supplies under the oil-for-food program.