Published on Tuesday, March 14, 2000 in the Washington Post
UN Chief Kofi Annan: US, UK Are Holding Up Humanitarian Aid To Iraqis
by Colum Lynch
UNITED NATIONS - In the draft of a report to be delivered to the U.N. Security Council this week, Secretary General Kofi Annan chides the United States and Britain for holding up more than $1.5 billion of humanitarian supplies for Iraq and calls for doubling the amount of money that Iraq is allowed to spend on its oil industry.

The U.N.'s effort to ease the suffering of Iraq's 20 million people "has suffered considerably" as result of "holds" placed by the United States and Britain on numerous contracts in the oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy humanitarian supplies under strict U.N. supervision, Annan wrote.

The secretary general's 64-page assessment of Iraq's humanitarian needs also renews his previous request for the Security Council to allow Iraq to double the $300 million it spends every six months on repairs and spare parts in its oil sector, which he said would ensure that oil keeps flowing and providing revenue for food, medicine and the like.

"I am very much concerned with the deteriorating condition of the oil industry of Iraq," wrote Annan, who sent a team of experts in January to inspect Baghdad's petroleum fields, pipelines and refineries. The team concluded that "the ability of the Iraqi oil industry to sustain current reduced production levels will be seriously compromised unless effective action is taken immediately," according to Annan's report.

While the report directs its strongest criticism at the Security Council, where the United States frequently exercises its veto power, Annan also faulted President Saddam Hussein's government for spending too little of the money from oil sales on food for the population. He appealed to Baghdad to increase its daily food rations, improve the delivery of drugs for chronic illnesses, and establish supplementary feeding programs for those at high risk.

Since the oil-for-food deal was negotiated in 1996, the Security Council has approved $9.3 billion worth of humanitarian purchases by Iraq. All of those contracts are exemptions to the international trade sanctions imposed on Iraq after its troops invaded Kuwait in 1990, sparking the Persian Gulf War.

Annan's report comes less than a month after two senior U.N. humanitarian officials based in Baghdad resigned in protest over the devastating impact of the sanctions on ordinary Iraqis. It adds to the mounting pressure on the United States from some of its closest allies, including Britain and France, to demonstrate greater flexibility in approving contracts.

The Clinton administration recently began an internal review of its policy in an effort to accelerate the approval of equipment that is used for legitimate purposes. But U.S. officials say their goal has been to block items with potential military use, particularly in the development of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. They charged that Saddam Hussein has spent the earnings from smuggled oil on palaces, liquor and luxuries for himself and his cronies.

"About 85 to 90 percent of contracts get approved by the sanctions committee," a U.S. official said. "The only things that don't get through are the things that the Iraqis can use to make weapons."

Annan reported that Iraq's oil, electricity, sanitation, transport and telecommunications sectors have been most severely harmed by the Security Council's foot-dragging. But he added that the council's sluggish approval of "dual use" contracts for forklifts, harbor dredges and other equipment required to repair Iraqi port facilities has hampered the U.N.'s ability to deliver food.

"Poor port conditions continue to contribute to a slow and inefficient offloading of necessary food basket items," he said. "Outdated damaged equipment such as forklifts continues to jeopardize the safety and well-being of port personnel."

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