KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — U.S. Marines and Army Civil Affairs troops are establishing a command center in northern Iraq to coordinate humanitarian aid efforts into the country.

Personnel for the Military Coordination Liaison Command began arriving last week in Iraq and will be led by Marine Maj. Gen. Peter Osman, said command spokesman Marine Maj. Tim Keefe.

The command center started as a U.S. European Command initiative but has recently come under Central Command, said Keefe, who is based in Stuttgart, Germany. There are only a handful of troops on the ground, including Osman, and the force size will evolve over time, he said.

As the fighting continues throughout Iraq, efforts have increased to get humanitarian assistance into the country.

On Friday, the British ship Sir Galahad entered the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. The ship is laden with water, food and medical supplies needed in southern Iraq, which had lost about 40 percent of its water supply after electricity was cut, according to military and Red Cross officials.

On Tuesday, the State Department outlined how it would bring aid into southern Iraq.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, via the World Food Program, has positioned 130,000 tons food in Kuwait City and Qatar to go into Iraq, and the United States has made a commitment of 610,000 tons of food.

USAID also has filtration equipment that can be moved quickly to provide water for more than 1 million people.

The new command center in northern Iraq will coordinate with humanitarian assistance aid agencies to ensure the region gets the help it needs, Keefe said.

“We’ll provide logistical support,” he said. If the nongovernmental agencies that provide food, water and other supplies need help, the command center will provide escorts and security.

The second role of command center will be to work with “the factions” and “military” in northern Iraq, including the Kurds, Keefe said, to keep informed of what they are doing and their needs.

The plan is to provide security and stability in the region within the “preservation of the current borders,” Keefe said.

The borders are an important issue because Turkey has feared that if the Kurds create their own country from a chunk of Iraq, the Turks’ national security could be threatened.

The newly created command center will be led by a joint command, Keefe said. Exactly why Iraq is facing a humanitarian crisis is hard to determine, said Andrew Natsios, USAID administrator.

In a briefing Tuesday in Washington, Natsios said many Iraqis had received food rations but as the threat of war loomed they sold them.

“There may be some very poor people in some area who sold all their food,” he said. “Some people sold their food, took the cash and are hiding it because they thought they might have to move and it’s easier to walk with cash than it is with food. In either case, they have resources.”

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