Iraq Says US, Britain Blocking More Imports


By Irwin Arieff

July 30, 2001

Iraq accused the United States and Britain on Monday of preventing it from buying badly needed goods under the UN oil-for-food program, even as they sought to streamline the program to ease its burden on the Iraqi people.

Baghdad said the value of contracts blocked under the oil-for-food program had crept up to $3.5 billion after falling to under $3 billion at the end of May, when Washington released some $800 million of contracts it had put on hold in the past. ``We appeal to you to put an end to this policy of seeking vengeance on the people of Iraq, and we urge you to intervene so that the holds ... may be lifted,'' Baghdad's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, said in identical letters to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. ``The policy of placing contracts on hold has gone so far that it is no longer possible to remain silent,'' Aldouri said.

Washington's late May move to lift a large number of holds had been part of an effort to build credibility and support for a proposed major U.S.-British overhaul of the 11-year-old sanctions regime against Iraq. The sanctions, including a ban on oil sales, were imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The oil-for-food program, created in December 1996 to ease the burden of the sanctions on ordinary Iraqis, allows Iraq to sell oil, with the proceeds going into a U.N. escrow account that is used to pay suppliers of goods ordered by Baghdad. A Security Council committee reviews all proposed purchases to prevent Baghdad from buying goods that might help it develop weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq regularly criticizes the United States and Britain over the use of the review process to block contracts for goods that have military as well as civilian uses, saying ordinary Iraqis suffer due to the many holds.

In an effort to counter the criticisms, Britain and the United States launched a drive several months ago to revamp the oil-for-food program. Their plan would have allowed Baghdad unrestricted purchases of civilian goods, while continuing to block military goods and retaining reviews for proposed purchases of goods with military as well as civilian uses.

The plan was dropped after Russia, Iraq's closest ally on the Security Council, threatened to veto it. Aldouri called the U.S.-British initiative ``a new lie'' designed to ``give a false legitimacy'' to the practice of placing holds on contracts. He said the many holds had been particularly damaging to the generation of electricity, affecting ``all necessities of life for Iraqi citizens.''

More Information on the Oil for Food Program
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq
More Information on the Iraq Crisis

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