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Iraq: Oil Exports Surge Along With Defiance Of UN

  • Robert McMahon

Iraq is gaining more revenue than ever from oil exports allowed under a UN humanitarian program, and also benefiting from a loosening in Security Council controls over contracts for medicine and food. But RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon reports that UN officials believe Iraq is tightening resistance to UN programs ultimately designed to lift severe sanctions against the country.

United Nations, 13 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- High international oil prices are creating a surge in revenue for the UN humanitarian program for Iraq, but its impact on civilians may become more difficult to determine.

The latest figures from the UN's Office of the Iraq Program say that in the past three months Iraq has exported about 185 million barrels of oil worth about $4.6 million. It is on course to sell about $10 billion worth of oil in this latest six-month phase of the program, which would mark the highest earnings yet in the UN's oil-for-food program, which began in 1997.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters on yesterday (Tuesday) that this surge in revenue comes at a time when contracts for areas such as food, education and agriculture are being approved more swiftly through a what is known as a "fast-track" process. The humanitarian program is in the middle of its eighth six-month phase.

"In the humanitarian sectors, more than one quarter of all contracts approved from Phase Five onwards have gone through the fast track rather than through the sanctions committee, which of course takes much longer."

In the fast-track process, the UN's Iraq Program notifies the Security Council's sanctions committee of the humanitarian contracts it is handling. The committee had been criticized for blocking some contracts that had purely humanitarian uses. Hundreds of other contracts are currently blocked while the committee seeks to determine whether they can be used to furnish Iraq with weapons.

In a report issued earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said continuing holds on contracts were partly to blame for a breakdown in food distribution systems and water treatment facilities. But Annan's report also signaled a lack in cooperation from Iraq in UN efforts to make the oil-for-food program more efficient. He said the Iraqi government was barring a visit of experts that had planned to set up a system in which Iraq would use some oil revenues to buy local goods. Such a move was expected to provide a boost to the local economy.

In addition, Annan said Iraq has also indicated it will not cooperate with a group of independent experts who were planning to conduct a thorough review of the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

Iraq does not recognize the Security Council resolution adopted last December that was aimed at renewing weapons inspections and providing for a chance of a quick suspension of sanctions. Baghdad says it no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction and rejects the need for what it calls intrusive inspections.

This response has angered Iraq's strongest critic on the Security Council, the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the UN General Assembly yesterday that Iraq was seeking to undermine and destabilize the international community. She said it was preserving its capacity to make weapons of mass destruction.

Albright later told reporters that the Security Council had put forth a clear program for easing the impact of sanctions on civilians and eventually ending them altogether. She said she has been trying to point out to human rights groups critical of the sanctions that the impasse is the fault of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"They are pumping as much oil as they can. It is not the international community that is keeping the Iraqi children and people from eating. It is Saddam Hussein. While those (human rights) groups may be well meaning, they need to understand who the real villain is. The villain is Saddam Hussein."

One of Saddam's chief aides, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, told the UN summit of world leaders last week that more than one million children, women and elderly people had fallen victim to the 10 years of sanctions. Aziz blamed the United States, which he said was manipulating the UN Security Council to maintain the sanctions in the service of what he called its own "hostile policies."

Hubert Vedrine, the foreign minister of Security Council permanent member France, met on Monday with Aziz, and said later he saw no softening in Iraq's stance on arms inspections. Vedrine told reporters that Iraq did not consider itself bound by the sanctions, but he stressed it was in Iraq's interests to cooperate.