UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution that will maintain UN protection of Iraq's sovereign assets against legal claims for another year, until the end of 2009.
The Iraqi government acknowledges debts and claims dating back to the rule of former dictator Saddam Hussein, but says the protection of Iraqi assets -- billions of dollars of mainly oil revenues -- from potential seizure by foreign governments, companies, and individuals is necessary so that Iraq can press forward with reconstruction of the country.
The foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, was in New York specifically to attend the Security Council's last regular session of 2008. The draft of the resolution was circulated among the council's members late last week and was broadly supported.
Zebari expressed his government's gratitude for the speedy approval of the measure.
"We are very pleased today that, unanimously, this resolution to protect Iraqi financial assets has been unanimously adopted by the Security Council," Zebari said. "This is a strong signal of the solidarity of the international community with Iraq as it is making progress toward a more peaceful, stable country."
The protection provided by the UN's highest executive organ does not mean that the debts Iraq incurred during the regime of Saddam Hussein are forgiven, but it gives the Iraqi government much needed financial security as it pursues its reconstruction and stabilization plans.
Revenues from Iraq's oil and natural gas exports are kept in a special development fund set up in 2003. There is about $20 billion in the fund now, and the Iraqi government withdraws from it as needed. The Iraqi central bank's foreign reserves, which stand now at more than $40 billion, are in another fund.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said the resolution will help stimulate further Iraqi progress.
"It helps facilitate more progress in Iraq by allowing immunities for Iraqi funds so that these funds are available for the Iraqi government to implement its economic development plans," he said.
The resolution also includes a call for a reevaluation of the Security Council's official documents pertaining to Iraq during the Saddam Hussein years. British Ambassador John Sawers urged that the documents be thoroughly reviewed and, in most cases, terminated.
"These resolutions were introduced in entirely different circumstances as a consequence of Saddam Hussein's actions and the need to protect Iraq's neighbors," Sawers said. "It's right that we now overhaul their provision with a view to their termination as soon as is feasible."
Zebari said the process toward nullification of these resolutions has already been initiated by himself and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It will take approximately six months to prepare recommendations, he said, and to present them to the Security Council for review and approval.