Global Policy Forum

Ex-UN Officials Attack US-UK Plan on Iraq

June 18, 2001

Two former United Nations officials yesterday condemned a U.S.-British proposal to revamp 11-year-old UN sanctions on Baghdad as a move which amounted to increased punishment for the Iraqi people.

Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who have both headed the UN humanitarian programme or oil-for-food deal, told reporters the proposed "smart" sanctions were designed to extend an embargo imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. "They (smart sanctions) are intended to create an open-ended opportunity to sustain an embargo," said Halliday, who quit as head of the oil-for-food programme in 1998 and has since been a vocal critic of the sanctions.

"We have very carefully studied the draft resolution. We find it a provocation and an intensified punishment of a people for a crime they have never committed," said von Sponeck, a German career UN official. He resigned from the same post last year, criticising the sanctions' effects on ordinary Iraqis.

The UN Security Council is debating an Anglo-American draft resolution that would ease sanctions on civilian imports to Iraq and tighten the ban on military goods. The council is working towards a self-imposed deadline of July 3 to adopt the new resolution. Russia, Iraq's closest ally in the Security Council, has signalled its objections. The resolution also seeks to stop smuggling, worth about $1 billion a year, and have the monies paid to a separate account rather than to Baghdad directly. "If the Americans and the British were able to close down (Iraq's) borders with Turkey, Syria and Jordan, that will deny Iraq a source of hard currency outside the so-called oil-for- food programme. And it is that extra money which is being used to begin the process of getting people back to work," Halliday said.

Iraq sells oil to neighbouring Jordan, Syria and Turkey outside the oil-for-food deal, providing funds directly to Baghdad. Iraqi sales under the oil pact go to a UN escrow account to pay for food, medicine and other humanitarian needs. Baghdad fears the new proposals would solidify rather than ease the sanctions. It cut off oil supplies on June 4 in protest and threatened to stop selling oil to its neighbours if they cooperated with the new plan.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on June 14, Jordan appealed to the Security Council to drop plans to overhaul sanctions, saying its economy would be devastated if trade was halted. Iraqi media said Syria had also voiced its concern over the new resolution in a letter to Annan. Turkey last week sent its foreign ministry under-secretary to Baghdad, where he was told by Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz that Ankara would suffer severe consequences if it implemented the new resolution.

Halliday and von Sponeck accused Washington and London of misleading public opinion by saying the new proposals would ease the plight of the Iraqi people. "We see headlines in the media in London saying 'sanctions have been lifted on Iraq' but this, of course, is simply not true," Halliday said. Both former UN officials are touring countries lobbying for an end to the sanctions. "Only a full lifting of economic sanctions will let Iraqis have a chance to live a normal life again," von Sponeck said.

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