Global Policy Forum

UN Wants Civilian Imports to Iraq

March 9, 2001

Benon Sevan, director of the Iraq-U.N. humanitarian program, said Secretary-General Kofi Annan believed non-military items should be put on so-called expedited ''green'' so they could reach ordinary Iraqis suffering under sanctions. Even some of the so-called dual-usage military-civilian goods should be approved more quickly by Security Council members with the proviso U.N. observers monitor them. ''Let the people get what they need,'' Sevan said after briefing the Security Council. ''And they must get what they need. It's as simple as that.'''

Under the humanitarian program Iraq is allowed to sell oil to purchase humanitarian goods and some equipment to rebuild its infrastructure. Revenues from oil sales go into a U.N.-controlled escrow account and many but not all contracts have to be approved one-by one by council members.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is considering lifting restrictions on civilian goods while tightening controls on any military equipment as part of a wide review of the sanctions. But meanwhile the United States has blocked more than 1,600 contracts worth $3.3 billion, many of them for electrical grids and telecommunications. The ''holds'' amount to more than 17 percent of those applications circulated to Security Council members for their approval, Sevan said. Others, such as food, are on the ''green'' lists and approved by U.N. officials. ''This is a matter of grave concern because some essential items are required for key sectors, such as electricity which has a direct impact on all other sectors,'' Sevan said.

Few nations, outside of the United States and Britain, investigate the contracts given to a sanctions committee that include all 15 Security Council members. Britain joined the United States in blocking some $400 million in contracts.

France, however, lashed out at the United States and Britain for not allowing vaccines to be put on an expedited list of products going to Iraq. ''These vaccines will continue to be put on hold by the American mission, ignoring the health of 4.7 million Iraqi children,'' French envoy Yves Doutriaux told the council, according to his speaking notes. ''The 'holds' on vaccines are not only serious from a moral point of view. they are incomprehensible,'' he said.

In response, U.S. envoy James Cunningham said the United States had only blocked two contracts for vaccines. ''That's all, so if there is a problem with vaccines going through it is not because of the holds,'' he said. Nevertheless he said, ''We'll take a look at it,'' noting ''the secretary-general has recommended it.''

Cunningham noted that some vaccines could also be used in conjunction with biological weapons but gave no details. The real problem, he said, was Iraq's underfunding of the program, beginning with reducing its oil exports, that has left the program $2.2 billion short over the next six months. Annan, in a report on Wednesday, said vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia, tetanus and hepatitis were in short supply, due to delays in placing orders, irregular deliveries of orders as well as holds placed on applications.

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


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