Internal UN documents predict that the worst fighting will be in the three central governorates around Baghdad, with the Kurdish-controlled north remaining largely free of conflict. But it will take a month after war breaks out before the predominantly Shia south is calm enough for UN humanitarian workers to work there.
Although formally expressing the hope that war can be averted, UN relief agencies are already positioning emergency supplies and updating evacuation procedures for the hundreds of international staff now inside Iraq.
“The UN expects that there will be full compliance by Iraq . . . and that, consequently, there will be no new humanitarian crisis,” one document says. “Nevertheless, UN agencies must ensure that they are adequately prepared for the full range of possible scenarios.”
Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, is trying to keep the preparations secret for fear of signalling to Iraq that weapons inspections are futile and a US-led attack is inevitable.