Global Policy Forum

Oil-for-Food Program and the Humanitarian Crisis


Iraqi woman shopping at a traditional market, Agence France Presse
The Security Council adopted this program in 1995 after widespread criticisms of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq under comprehensive economic sanctions. After delays, humanitarian supplies began to arrive in 1997. Though the program lessened the crisis, it did not end it. Under its rules, the UN controls all revenues from Iraq's oil sales and contracts within the program are subject to oversight. The US and the UK often impose political blockages to legitimate humanitarian contracts, claiming "dual-use" as military items. Procedures are slow, monies are withheld for war reparations, and Iraq's oil industry cannot obtain either investments or adequate spare parts. Beginning in late 2001, the US-UK throttled Iraq's oil sales through abusive control over the contract price, drastically reducing funds available for the program and organizing a humanitarian crisis in the lead-up to war.

Sanctions Against Iraq | Disagreement and Debates in the UN Security Council | Wider Discussion on Sanctions Reform
Criticism of the Sanctions | Studies and Recommendations | Statements from NGOs | Civilian Flights | Other Analyses of the Sanctions
Iraq Crisis | Oil in Iraq | Threat of US Attack Against Iraq

Key Documents | Articles | Archives

Key Documents

high lightList of UN SC Resolutions on the Oil-for-Food Program

high lightOil for Food: The True Story (October 2000)
A quarter of Iraqi oil and petroleum revenue goes not to food or medicine, but to compensation payments that Iraq will be making for decades to come. Alain Gresh of Le Monde Diplomatique writes of the most severe war reparations since World War I, and the US-dominated UN agency that administers the summary justice.

high light Open Letter to the Security Council Concerning the Humanitarian Situation in Iraq (August 4, 2000)
Global Policy Forum, Save the Children-UK, and four other NGOs write to the UN Security Council urging the necessity to protect and advance fundamental rights of civilians in Iraq. The letter also urges the need to devise sanctions that are targeted, effective and credible.
Highly Recommended Article

  • Open Letter to the Security Council Concerning the Humanitarian Situation in Iraq (March 22, 2000)
    A group of NGOs including GPF have produced a statement expressing concern about Iraq's humanitarian crisis and calling for a "radical redesign" to make sanctions that are "more targeted, effective and credible."

  • Introductory Statement by Benon V. Sevan, Executive Director of the Iraq Programme at the Informal Consultations of the Security Council (June 6, 2000)
    In an informal consultation with the UN Security Council, Mr. Sevan highlighted the achievements and difficulties in implementing Iraq's oil-for-food program. For an effective implementation, he argued that the UN program needs to strengthen the relationship with the Iraqi government and avoid the politicization of the program.(United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme: oil for food)

  • Briefing on the UN Observation Mission In Iraq ( April 25, 2000)
    A briefing by the Office of the Iraq Program's Benon Sevan, which outlines the specific objectives and mechanisms of the program. As the program becomes larger and more complex, the focus is shifting from delivering food and basic supplies to building infrastructures in Iraq. (UN Office of the Iraq Program)

  • Briefing on Holds from the UN Office of the Iraq Program (April 20, 2000)
    Benon Sevan, the executive director for the Office of Iraq Program, highlights the problems posed for the oil-for-food program by the excessive number of holds placed by governments on Iraqi applications.(UN Office of the Iraq Program)

  • Security Council Debate on Iraq Sanctions (March 24, 2000)
    Secretary General Annan and most of the council's members express their views on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. Annan's full speech

  • Report of the Secretary General (November 29, 2000)
    An examination of the status of the UN's humanitarian programme, and the situation of the people of Iraq (PDF format). See also the Secretary General's previous reports on Iraq.

    General Articles


    Highly Recommended ArticleHow the Sanctions Hurt Iraq (August 2, 2001)
    This article frames the "smart sanctions" debate in a historical context and shows why the US-UK proposed alterations to the existing sanctions regime would not help Iraq recover from eleven years of devastation. (MERIP)

    Highly Recommended ArticleSmart Sanctions: Rebuilding Consensus or Maintaining Conflict? (June 28, 2001)
    Based on recent Council debates, it is unlikely that the US will build sufficient consensus to revamp the sanctions regime against Iraq. However, the US is deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. This analysis suggests this dissatisfaction coupled with the unlikelihood of building a consensus on the Council may induce the US to resort to unilateral measures. (MERIP)

    UN Extends Iraq Oil-for-Food Deal (December 3, 2001)
    The Security Council has adopted a new resolution on Iraq's oil-for-food program which provides a revised list of prohibited goods. However, the resolution does not address the question of UN arms inspectors' return to Iraq. (Moscow Times)

    Baghdad: UN Program Faces 1.63-billion-dollar Shortfall (November 6, 2001)
    With the price of Iraqi oil falling, the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq faces a loss of about 1.63 billion dollars in the current five-month phase. (World Oil Industry News)

    Iraq Expels Five UN Officials; UN Withdraws Them (September 4, 2001)
    Stating national security concern, Iraq has expelled five UN officials from the Oil-for-Food Program. But the Security Council understands this action as a way of protesting against the entire UN operation in Iraq. (Reuters)

    Iraq Says UN Sanctions Crumbling After 11 Years (August 7, 2001)
    Baghdad is urging the UN to lift the 11 year-old sanctions regime against Iraq. The UN's oil-for-food programme helps alleviate some of the suffering, but it is not a substitute for full economic activity. (Reuters)

    The Secret Behind the Sanctions (August 1, 2001)
    Thomas Nagy contends that the US knew sanctions had the capacity to devastate the water treatment system of Iraq. It also knew what the consequences would be: increased outbreaks of disease and high rates of child mortality. (Progressive)

    Iraq Says US, Britain Blocking More Imports (July 30, 2001)
    Iraq has accused the US and the UK 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. (Reuters)

    Iraq Promises Oil Contracts in Exchange for Support in UN (July 30, 2001)
    Iraq has announced that it will repay Russia for its support against smart sanctions on the UN Security Council. The payment will come in the form of lucrative oil contracts. (Associated Press)

    UK Envoy Fails to Justify Iraq Sanctions (July 28, 2001)
    Hans von Sponeck, a former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, accuses the US and UK of duplicity in their defense of the Oil-for-Food Program. He also argues that the US-UK proposed smart sanctions would "choke legitimate civilian trade and humanitarian assistance" in Iraq. (Irish Times)

    Iraq Gives Priority to Russia, Syria in Import Contracts (July 16, 2001)
    As an apparent reward for opposing the US/UK plan to revamp the sanctions regime against Iraq, Saddam Hussein will give priority to Russia and Syria in import contracts under the UN oil-for-food programme. France previously won the lion's share of deals, but it supported the US/UK proposal. (Jordan Times)

    The UN Fails to Get Smart (July 14, 2001)
    This Japan Times editorial affirms the widely held belief that everyone--except Saddam Hussein--lost when the Security Council extended the status quo "dumb sanctions" against Iraq. However, the article fails to acknowledge that the US/UK plan for "smart sanctions" would do little to help Iraq reconstruct its civil society.

    History of Missed Opportunities (July 13, 2001)
    Instead of blasting China and France for supporting the US/UK draft resolution, Iraq should begin a constructive dialogue with its sympathizers within the Security Council. (Jordan Times

    Iraq, UN Extend Oil-for-Food Programme (July 10, 2001)
    The UN and Iraq signed an agreement extending the oil-for-food program for an additional five months. For months, the Security Council discussed altering the conditions of the program to allow more civilian goods into Iraq, but disagreement among P-5 members prevented a new resolution from materializing. (Reuters)

    Trade Deal Won Chinese Support of US Policy on Iraq (July 6, 2001)
    The Bush administration won Chinese support for the US/UK plan to overhaul sanctions against Iraq by releasing more than $80 million in frozen Chinese business deals with Iraq last month. Although US officials argue that there was no "quid pro quo," the deal smacks of bribery. (Washington Post)

    Iraq Wins at UN but Loses Pair of Envoys (July 5, 2001)
    Baghdad may have scored a victory in forcing the US and UK to abandon their sanctions overhaul plan, but the defection of two senior diplomats is a clear defeat for Saddam Hussein in his propaganda war with the West. (Los Angeles Times)

    Iraq Uses Its Buying Power As Leverage (July 3, 2001)
    An article by the Washington Post suggests that the opposition toward the US/UK proposal for "smarter sanctions" did not stem from sympathy for Iraqi civilians, but rather from ulterior motives, such as trade and oil contracts. The article focuses on France's pending contracts with Iraq. France was one of the most vocal critics of the US/UK plan.

    Iraq 'Smart Sanctions' Plan Dropped at UN (July 3, 2001)
    In stark contrast to pro-US publications, the Independent suggests that the US/UK plan to revamp sanctions against Iraq failed because it did not address the fundamental issue of how sanctions could be lifted.

    Iraq Wins Sanctions Battle? (July 2, 2001)
    The UN's inability to agree on a new sanctions regime marks a victory for Baghdad. In addition to winning the propaganda battle, Iraq effectively exploited its neighbors' oil dependency to gain their support. (BBC)

    UN Spends More on Sniffer Dogs Than People, Says Iraq (June 29, 2001)
    In a riveting speech before the Security Council, Iraqi representative Riyadh Al Qaysi lambasted the UN for corruption and for spending more money on sniffer dogs than on the people of Iraq. The Iraqi delegate had flown to New York to try to convince the Council to oppose to US-UK plan to revamp sanctions against his country. (Reuters)

    UN Deadlock Over Iraq Sanctions (June 27, 2001)
    The sanctions regime against Iraq also hurts Iraq's neighboring countries—many of whom were America's allies during the Gulf War. Jordan finds itself in a particularly sticky situation: It wants to remain on friendly terms with the US, but is economically dependent on Iraqi oil. (Guardian)

    Jordan First to Lose When ‘Smart' Sanctions Hit Iraq (June 26, 2001)
    A public Security Council debate on Iraq failed to produce any kind of consensus among P-5 members. Russia introduced a new draft resolution delineating how sanctions could be lifted. The UK and US summarily dismissed the draft. (BBC)

    Firm's Iraq Deals Greater Than Cheney Has Said (June 23, 2001)
    Ironically, the Vice-President of the nation most adamantly in favor of sanctions against Iraq engaged in "sanctions busting" only a year ago. US Vice-President Richard B. Cheney acknowledged that the oil company he headed did business with Iraq during his tenure as CEO. (Washington Post)

    UN Okays Russia Call for Debate on Iraq (June 21, 2001)
    For the first time since it imposed sanctions on Iraq, the Council will hold a public meeting to discuss the UK and French proposals to revamp the embargo. The announcement comes a day after Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov requested the meeting. (Reuters)

    Russia Seeks Open UN Meeting on Iraq (June 20, 2001)
    Moscow wants the Council to discuss the Iraq sanctions overhaul in public meetings next week. Until now, all discussions about Iraq have been held under a shroud of secrecy in private consultations. (Reuters)

    Haggling Delays New Trade Embargo Against Saddam (June 19, 2001)
    This report suggests that there is nothing that the US can do to prevent Saddam Hussein from rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction, regardless whether the Security Council implements "smart sanctions." (Guardian)

    UN Sanctions Didn't Stop Iraq From Buying Weapons (June 18, 2001)
    In a suspiciously-timed article, the New York Times reveals the findings of a conservative think-tank, which argues that the 11-year-old sanctions regime against Iraq did not prevent Saddam Hussein from building up his arsenal of weapons. The report comes as the Council considers easing sanctions against Iraq.

    Iraq Again Warns Turkey Against ‘Smart' Sanctions (June 12, 2001)
    Worried that the Security Council is nearing a resolution to revitalize sanctions against his country, Saddam Hussein is encouraging his allies to ignore the UN's decision. (Jordan Times)

    Smart Diplomacy Yields a Sensible Plan for Iraq (June 11, 2001)
    This editorial supports the current US-UK proposal for smart sanctions, arguing that they will punish Saddam Hussein and the regime instead of the Iraqi people. (International Herald Tribune)

    New UN Plan Lets Foreigners Render Services in Iraq (June 11, 2001)
    The US and UK have altered their earlier proposal for revised sanctions against Iraq. The new resolution would allow foreign companies to provide services for civilian projects in Iraq. (Reuters)

    Iraq Defiant (June 6, 2001)
    An agreement on a revamped sanctions resolution will not end debate on penalties against Iraq, nor will it thwart Baghdad's efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction. (Al-Ahram)

    UN Experts Watch Clock on Iraqi Sanctions Revamp (June 5, 2001)
    Because of the US-UK insistence that Iraq be barred from buying goods that have even a remote military use, the Security Council will have a difficult time agreeing on a revised sanctions resolution. (Reuters)

    Iraq Halts Oil Exports in Protest of "Smart" Sanctions (June 4, 2001)
    Iraq argues that the renewal of the oil-for-food program should not be linked to the "US-British project" to revitalize sanctions against Iraq. In protest, the Baghdad government has halted oil exports. (Agence France Presse)

    Will "Smart" Sanctions Work? (June 2, 2001)
    Not only will the US proposal of so-called "smarter sanctions" be difficult to implement, but they will also do little to alleviate the suffering of Iraq's population or finish the job of destroying weapons of mass destruction. (BBC)

    Security Council Extends Iraq Oil-for-Food Program (June 1, 2001)
    The UN Security Council extended the oil-for-food program for only 30 days, rather than 6 months, giving it more time to reconsider the US-UK plan to restructure sanctions on Iraq. (Associated Press)

    Iraq Ready to Renew Oil-for-Food Program If It Remains Unchanged (May 31, 2001)
    Iraq says that it will accept the renewal of the UN oil-for-food programme, but warns that it will halt all oil exports if the Security Council also renews sanctions. (Agence France-Presse)

    US and Britain To Stop Kickbacks on Iraqi Oil (March 11, 2001)
    The US and UK want to set up a UN panel to monitor malfeasance in the Oil-for-Food program, an idea they will bring next week in the Security Council's Iraqi sanctions committee.(Reuters)

    UN Wants Civilian Imports to Iraq to Flow Freely (March 9, 2001)
    Benon Sevan, the director of the UN humanitarian program for Iraq, suggested that non-military articles should be sent to Iraq without the approval of the Security Council. Why is the US not so keen on the proposal?(Reuters)

    UN Warns on Iraqi Oil Exports (March 7, 2001)
    Kofi Annan calls on Iraq and the Security Council to stop inserting politics into the oil-for-food program. (Guardian)

    Iraq Lagging in Buying Food, Medicine for Needy, UN Complains (February 01, 2001)
    In a letter to the Security Council's Iraq Sanctions Committee, the head of the UN humanitarian program expresses his concern about the slowdown in Iraqi participation in the Oil-For–Food program. (USINFO)


    UN Panel Tells Iraqi Oil Lifters Not to Pay Surcharge (December 16, 2000)
    The Security Council's Iraq sanctions committee tells buyers in no uncertain terms that they are not to pay surcharges on Iraqi oil. (Reuters)

    Iraq 'Resumes' Oil Exports (December 13, 2000)
    Baghdad is exporting oil again, but the controversy over their per-barrel surcharge is not over yet. In fact, an oil industry newsletter has reported that several companies have been paying Iraq 10 extra cents per barrel since October 2000. (BBC)

    Iraq Oil Stays on Hold, Baghdad Wants Surcharge (December 11, 2000)
    Baghdad agrees to the UN's proposed renewal of the oil-for-food program, but the pricing dispute quickly starts up again. Iraq is again asking companies to pay a surcharge directly into an Iraqi bank account, and the UN says they won't let it happen. (Reuters)

    Security Council Approves Six-Month Extension of Iraq Humanitarian Program (December 6, 2000)
    Phase IX of the oil-for-food program will see a partial liberalization of the regime. Electricity and housing supplies contracts will get fast-track approval, and some revenue will be returned to Iraq as cash, mostly to spend on oil industry infrastructure. (Associated Press)

    Iraq Oil-for-Food Deal Debated (December 5, 2000)
    The director of the oil-for-food program has told the Security Council that it is time to make changes to the regime. But the Security Council, which is currently discussing the terms of the program's renewal, is straining to agree on the nature of those changes. (News24)

    Iraq Says it is Free to Choose its Oil Prices (December 3, 2000)
    Baghdad says that it will impose sanctions of its own against companies and countries selling its oil to ‘hostile' states. Meanwhile, Kofi Annan criticizes both Iraq and the US in his report to the Security Council on Iraq sanctions. (Reuters)

    Oil Exports: The Iraqi Statement (December 1, 2000)
    An announcement on Iraqi radio about the suspension of oil exports. (BBC/Iraqi radio)

    Iraq Halts Oil Exports (December 1, 2000)
    Baghdad blames its dispute with the UN over the oil-for-food program for the stoppage. Moreover, according to reports, Iraq has enough funds from previous sales of oil to sustain the freeze for some time. (BBC)

    Iraq Set to Suspend Oil Exports in Revenue Dispute With UN (November 27, 2000)
    Iraq wants international oil companies to pay premiums into an account outside UN auspices. The UN sanctions committee says they won't let this happen. The battle could lead Iraq to suspend its oil exports in protest. (Agence France Presse)

    Iraq to Ask UN to Include Palestine in Oil-for-Food Deal (November 26, 2000)
    Baghdad says that they want revenue from Iraqi oil to provide food and medicine not only for the Iraqi people, but also for "their Palestinian brothers". With such a proposal, Iraq's political capital may soar even higher among the Arab states. (Xinhua)

    Bill Clinton on Sanctions Against Iraq (November 8, 2000)
    Interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Clinton justifies the sanctions against Iraq, blaming only Saddam Hussein for the effects of the sanctions on the Iraqi people. Following the interview is a rebuttal from EPIC, pointing out errors in Clinton's statements and fundamental flaws in the Oil-for-Food program.


    More Information on Iraq
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