Global Policy Forum

Haggling Delays New Trade Embargo


By Mark Tran

June 19, 2001

The US and Britain might have expected rapid progress on their plans for "smart" sanctions against Iraq after they were accepted in principle by the UN security council earlier this month. But finding agreement on Iraq remains as elusive as ever. The two allies have been working hard in past weeks to rally support for the new proposals, which are designed to counter widespread criticism that the present set of sanctions are hurting Iraqi civilians more than Saddam Hussein and his cronies. Drawn up mostly by British officials at the UN, the new plan would lift restrictions on imports of civilian goods to Iraq, while tightening controls on military items and cracking down on illicit Iraqi oil sales to its neighbours.

Although initial reaction to "smart" sanctions seemed to indicate that consensus on Iraq had at last been found, subsequent discussions have revealed divisions, and disagreement has broken out over a dense 28-page confidential list of items the two allies want to stop Iraq from buying without UN approval.

The "goods review list" includes items ranging from large-bore drilling equipment and sophisticated telecommunications gear to night-vision goggles and underwater television cameras. As the list would accompany two others that apply to military or dual-use equipment which Iraq already is not allowed to buy, the US and Britain agreed to trim the list after France, Russia and China argued that the number of controlled items was too large. However, the haggling goes on and the adoption of a new sanctions regime could be put back even further.

The two allies had hoped that the plan would have been adopted by now, but the June 3 target date has come and gone and it looks as if the council will miss the July 4 deadline, although US and British officials say they are still aiming for that date.

Quite apart from wrangles with Russia, France and China, Britain and the US are finding it hard to win support for efforts to curb the smuggling of Iraqi oil, sales of which are supposed to go through a special UN escrow account to pay for permitted Iraqi imports.

But Iraq has been pumping or trucking oil to Turkey and Jordan in defiance of sanctions in a trade that earns Baghdad about $1.5bn (£1bn). In return, the struggling economies of Jordan and Turkey get cheap oil. According to the Wall Street Journal, Jordan saves an estimated $500m a year by buying cut-rate oil directly from Iraq outside the UN oil-for-food programme, or nearly twice the amount it received in American aid last year.

As if it that was not enough, a respectable Washington thinktank, the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms, will argue in a report to be published tomorrow that the debate on new sanctions is irrelevant: "The new proposal - whether adopted by the United Nations or not - has little hope of stopping the Iraqis from sneaking in what they need to rebuild their weapons sites and sneaking out the oil to pay for it."

The Wisconsin Project says it has found evidence of illegal sales or potential sales by companies in Ukraine, Belarus and Romania. Among the purchases made by Iraq were missile components and hi-tech machine tools. "We need to do better," says Gary Milhollin, one of the authors of the report.

Easier said than done. The US and Britain have tried UN arms inspectors, until they were kicked out. They have dropped bombs. They designed an oil-for-food programme and now they are pushing for "smart sanctions". Still Saddam sits in Baghdad, squirreling away technology for his weapons.

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


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