OPINION: NGOs must stick to their guns

The Treasury has allocated £3 billion to fund the fight in Iraq. Reports this week suggest that, even on the apparently optimistic timetable set by the Pentagon for regime change, the UK's war bill may still come to even more.

At the same time, the Department for International Development, headed by the compromised figure of Clare Short, is putting an extra £60 million into humanitarian work in Iraq to cope with the ongoing consequences of war. I don't need to labour the disparity in the amounts, but what they also show is that our leaders want to have it all ways. So our forces bomb and kill the Iraqi people in pursuit of Saddam and then we offer aid to those lucky enough to survive the onslaught.

This divisive war is riddled with terrifying absurdities but, in the current climate of a nation-at-war, we are not encouraged to highlight them. It would be, it is alleged, unpatriotic. This is propaganda of the first order and we should all resist its thuggish overtones.

How commendably clear-sighted then of several UK overseas aid charities last week to refuse to play the official game and apply for a slice of Short's new funding. It was a decision that may have confused their donors.

It could even have consequences for fundraising, but to say yes would, they pointed out, have compromised their neutrality. They share with our Prime Minister a sincere desire to help the Iraqi people against a tyrant, but they could not justify morally being seen as the official mop-up operation that comes in once the troops have moved on to the next battlefield. Aid agencies have no place in the British war effort, however much it would ease Blair's troubled conscience to see them there.

This cannot have been an easy decision for the agencies. Indeed, some broke ranks. All are acutely aware of the massive humanitarian disaster that is happening now in Iraq as the food chain breaks down. To refuse money to tackle the issues must have been a hard decision but, on this occasion, it was absolutely the right one.

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

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