Global Policy Forum

Iraq Defiant


By Salah Hemeid

June 6, 2001

Britain and the United States are proposing to end all restrictions on civilian trade with Iraq, but want tougher controls on trade of goods with potential military use, according to a new draft resolution before the UN Security Council. But the proposals have split the Council, divided Middle East states and drawn strong denunciations from Baghdad.

Under a draft resolution to be circulated at the Security Council soon, Iraq will be able to trade commercial goods freely, but strict checks of anything considered to be military or weapons-related will remain. Iraq will also be able to resume civilian flights. If approved by the Council, the new measures may enable the United States to reclaim the public relations moral high ground on Iraq. They will not, however, end debate over penalties, nor guarantee that Baghdad's efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction will be thwarted.

But indications are that it will be a battle for the United States to have its proposals accepted. China and Russia say they reject the proposed changes to the current sanctions regime as there is not enough time to consider them before the current oil-for-food programme expires on 3 June. Russia, instead, called for a routine extension of the UN's existing oil-for-food programme for six months, while adding a few new elements designed to please Iraq. Russia's ambassador to the UN, Sergey Lavrov, said earlier this week that just over two weeks wasn't enough time to consider such major changes, a view supported by China, also a key supporter of Baghdad. Some sources said that the US and Britain would now seek Russia's support for the "smart sanctions" and would try to persuade Russia that their plan can work.

Meanwhile, France prepared to offer amendments that would bridge the competing proposals and move the powers on the Security Council closer over an issue that has long divided them. Copies of the French ideas were circulated to the other four permanent members (the United States, China, Britain and Russia) late last Tuesday. Each of the five council members can veto any plan.

The differing views split the five members of the council along traditional lines, with Washington and London calling for a sanctions overhaul now, while Moscow, Paris and Beijing say such major changes require more time than the seven working days left until the sanctions renewal date.

Middle Eastern countries are divided, too. Jordan and Turkey have informed Kuwait and Saudi Arabia of their support for the smart sanctions, according to sources. Press reports have suggested that King Abdullah of Jordan's recent visit to Kuwait was an opportunity for him to express Jordan's backing. Sources also added that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Egypt will back the resolution. Sources say that Iran, at this point in time, would not explicitly support the US plan, but that Iran's general attitude indicates that it favours a termination of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Iraq, meanwhile, responded by rejecting the US-British proposals, newspapers have reported. French-proposed changes to a draft UN resolution are equally unacceptable, Iraqi officials said Saturday. "Iraq totally rejects the new French resolution, which was introduced to the Security Council," Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told the official Iraqi News Agency. "It looks similar to the British resolution, but with French make-up." Aziz did not elaborate, but apparently was referring to French amendments to an existing British-proposed resolution that is endorsed by the United States. That resolution, like the US one, calls for lifting restrictions on most civilian goods entering Iraq, while toughening enforcement of an arms embargo and UN control over Iraq's oil revenues.

Iraq also said on Thursday that it would sever all trade ties, including oil sales, with any country that implemented the proposed British-US sanctions plan. ''If any country approves and implements the new sanctions against Iraq, it is only natural that Iraq should react by halting its trade relations, including the sale of oil, to that country," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Naji Sabri Ahmed told Reuters Television. "But we hope nearby countries will not apply this, and we are told by them that they will not."

Some in Iraq even threatened to abandon oil exports and annul the UN's oil-for-food programme altogether if the US-British plan is adopted. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz last Wednesday said, "If the [UN] Security Council adopts the project which has been submitted, the Iraqi government will not sell a single barrel of oil under the oil-for-food programme." The oil-for-food programme puts proceeds from Iraqi oil sales in a UN account and then pays suppliers of food, medicine and many other goods. Iraq warned Sunday of a crisis in the world oil market if Baghdad interrupts its crude exports, saying Saudi Arabia is incapable of meeting the difference. "We are certain that, if Iraq's oil stops flowing, there will be a crisis on the world market," said Taha Hammud Mussa, secretary to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, quoted in Al-Ittihad newspaper. "I doubt that the Saudi kingdom could compensate for a lack of Iraqi oil if there were a break in exports," he continued, adding that Iraq's production capacity would soon be raised to 3.5 million barrels per day. But oil analysts have said the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would either officially increase output or merely "leak" more oil onto the market to keep the absence of Iraqi oil from increasing prices too much.

The oil-for-food programme was introduced in 1996 and allows Baghdad, which has been sanctioned since invading Kuwait in 1990, to export crude to pay importers of humanitarian supplies, war reparations and the UN for its operations in Iraq. Iraq is a member of OPEC, but has not been part of the group's quota system since the 1991 Gulf War. The sanctions-hit country can produce around three million barrels of oil per day (bpd) and has ambitions to boost output to six million bpd, but admits it needs to invest 30 billion dollars in infrastructure to do so. Baghdad has drawn up contracts, mainly with Russian and Chinese companies, to develop its oil fields, but work cannot begin until the UN lifts its embargo.

Iraq's media, meanwhile, were defiant. The new American resolution, in all its details, "is a clear confession that the evil Zionist-American plots against Iraq have failed totally and that they have failed to isolate Iraq," the government daily, Al-Jumhuriya, said in a front-page editorial on Saturday.

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


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