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UN: Iraq Resolution Now A Year Old Without Implementation

  • Joe Lauria

A year ago this week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that was intended to resolve the UN's long-running standoff with Iraq. RFE/RL correspondent Joe Lauria looks back over the year and examines why the impasse over sanctions and weapons inspections is still far from over.

United Nations, 20 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Resolution 1284 was an ambitious attempt by the Security Council to resolve two main issues between Iraq and the United Nations: how to resume UN inspections of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and how to suspend the sanctions that have taken a heavy toll on Iraqi civilians.

The resolution, which has only minimally been implemented so far, envisions the suspension of sanctions once weapons inspectors return and certify Iraq's full cooperation. The road to that solution is complex and politically charged.

The resolution passed after long debate in the Security Council that divided the five permanent members. The United States and Britain sought to maintain a hard line against Iraq, while France, Russia and China looked for the quickest way to lift sanctions.

The compromise resulted in a complex and, in certain key points, vague resolution. Nevertheless, it was the first major council action regarding Iraq in a year.

On December 15, 1998, the last of the UN weapons inspectors left Iraq after Baghdad blocked their work. UNSCOM, the UN Special Commission on Iraqi disarmament, was shortly thereafter dissolved.

For a year, the council was mired in disagreement. But resolution 1284, passed on December 17 last year, sought to resolve all outstanding issues in one neat package. The measure did three things: it created a news weapons inspection regime -- called UNMOVIC for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. It also lifted the ceiling on Iraq's oil exports and explained how the sanctions could be suspended.

More of the humanitarian aspects of the resolution have been implemented. The ceiling on the amount of oil Iraq exported under the UN's oil-for-food program, which was $5 billion every six months, was lifted by resolution 1284.

While Iraq at first balked at this offer, insisting on lifting sanctions altogether, it later agreed and now exports as much oil as it can sell. The proceeds still go into a UN escrow account, from which humanitarian purchases are made.

The director of the oil-for-food program, Benon Sevan, told reporters earlier this month that new revenue generated by oil sales have benefited Iraqis. But he said delays in the process of ordering supplies, plus Security Council holds on contracts, have hindered the program as it enters its fifth year.

"Undoubtedly the program has made a difference for the benefit of the Iraqi people, but at the same time has not been able to resolve the issues to which it was really meant to address so therefore the poor have become poorer, and we've always said numerous times normal economic activity cannot be substituted by emergency relief."

UNMOVIC was established with one main difference from UNSCOM. Its staff is made up only of UN employees. Many of UNSCOM's staff were employed by their national governments, which created a conflict-of-interest issue highlighted by Iraq and its supporters on the council.

While no inspections have taken place yet, UNMOVIC has continued its evolution. A chairman was found -- Hans Blix of Sweden -- an organizational plan was drawn up, new staff was hired and extensive training, now including cultural sensitivity classes, has taken place.

Blix says inspectors are ready to return to Iraq, but the council has not found the political will to confront Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who insists UNMOVIC is not welcome.

The director of UNMOVIC's predecessor, Richard Butler, told RFE/RL in an interview earlier this year that even UNSCOM, which carried out major inspections throughout Iraq, was hampered by Saddam's lack of compliance.

Butler said such inspection missions share a vulnerable point -- they rely on cooperation from the subject state.

"Iraq never fully cooperated with UNSCOM. That's really a very important point that needs to be registered. From the beginning, Iraq never fully cooperated or allowed UNSCOM to exercise all the rights that were set forth in the decisions of the Security Council."

Instead of lifting sanctions in exchange for resumed arms inspections, Resolution 1284 presented a compromise.

Sanctions would be suspended 120 days after UNMOVIC reports to the council that "Iraq has cooperated in all respects with UNMOVIC." The suspension would be renewable every 120 days as an incentive for Iraq to continue cooperating.

But the act that could trigger suspension of sanctions -- the resumption of inspections -- appears far off.

One passage in the resolution particularly bothers the Iraqi government and may be a key stumbling block to a resumption of inspections. The resolution calls on UNMOVIC, within 60 days after re-entering Iraq, to submit a work program outlining the remaining disarmament tasks.

One UN officials close to UNMOVIC told our correspondent that Iraq has complained that it does not know how much it is supposed to accommodate future inspections because it is expected to let monitors into the country first and then hear their demands.

Blix, the new chief inspector, has already indicated he is sensitive to Iraqi concerns about overly intrusive inspections. He told a news conference in March:

"One must remember always that Iraq is not a country under occupation. It is under the control of the government and you cannot go on forever to take the authorities by surprise there. The inspectors are not an army. They are not a commando troop that can leap in and shoot their way to the target."

In the meantime, Iraq has worked to end its political isolation and weaken the sanctions regime. Baghdad airport has been reopened to international humanitarian flights and domestic air service. Some diplomatic ties have been restored. And Iraq has tried to pressure its oil customers into paying a surcharge directly to Baghdad.

The question for some analysts now is whether the sanctions can hold until resolution 1284 can be implemented fully.

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