Published on Wednesday, September 27, 2000 by InterPress Service
UN's 10-year-old Embargo on Iraq Threatens to Unravel
by Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - The 10-year-old UN embargo on Iraq, which has devastated that country's economy and caused the deaths of hundreds of children, is threatening to unravel.

France and Russia, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, have challenged the embargo arguing that it does not apply to civilian flights carrying humanitarian aid.

Sanctions Unravel
A delegation from Russia arrives at Saddam International airport in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday Sept. 23, 2000. The Russian airliner touched down Saturday in Iraq with a soccer team, musicians, businesspeople and medical supplies aboard in another challenge to 10-year-old U.N. sanctions that the United States and Britain are finding hard to keep firmly in place. (AP Photo/Jassim Mohammed)
Both Russian and French planes have, over the weekend, flown to Iraq carrying not only doctors and medical supplies but also business executives and soccer players. But the United States and Britain, also permanent members of the Council, insist that these flights are a violation of the embargo which was imposed on Iraq just after it invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

China, the fifth veto-wielding member of the Council, has expressed its strong opposition to the continued sanctions on Iraq, but has not given any indication of ferrying relief supplies to Baghdad.

India, which has signed an economic co-operation agreement with Iraq, has indicated it will probably follow the French and the Russians with its own humanitarian flight into Baghdad. Jordan and Syria may be next in line.

The United States and Britain maintain that all flights into Iraq have to be authorised by the UN Sanctions Committee which has, on previous occasions, approved civilian flights, including flights out of Baghdad for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

According to a news report from Baghdad, the Russians informed the committee of its proposed flight but did not seek permission to land in Iraq. The government of France, on the other hand, also notified the committee but did not wait for approval.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters that the United States and Britain had asked for a delay in the departure of the flight from Paris ''pending more information on the exact humanitarian nature of the flight.'' But the plane departed Paris without having received the committee's approval, Eckhard added.

Britain and the United States interpret this as a clear violation of the embargo.

Addressing reporters at the United Nations two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pointed out that it was very hard to figure out what ''humanitarian'' means these days. ''The United States disagreed with those who wished to fly into Iraq,'' she warned.

Early this year, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the humanitarian crisis in Iraq - where hundreds of children have been dying of ill-health and malnutrition - posed ''a serious moral dilemma for the United Nations.''

''The UN has always been on the side of the vulnerable and the weak, and has always sought to relieve suffering,'' he told the Security Council, ''Yet we are accused of causing suffering to an entire population.''

Annan said the United Nations was in danger of losing the argument or the propaganda war - ''if we haven't already lost it'' - about who is responsible for this situation. ''Is it (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein or the United Nations?'' he asked.

The Secretary-General said he was particularly concerned about the situation of Iraqi children whose suffering and, in all too many cases, untimely deaths, were documented in a report prepared by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Iraqi Health Ministry last year. ''We cannot in all conscience ignore such reports, and assume that they are wrong,'' he told the Council.

As a result of the human suffering in Iraq, the world body decided to set up an ''oil for food'' programme about three years ago.

Under this programme, Iraq is permitted to export limited quantities of petroleum in order to finance food, medicine and relief supplies - all of which were intended to alleviate the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi people. But the United States has said that even this programme is being abused by the Iraqi government.

Albright told reporters that the Iraqis will be pumping between 16 billion and 20 billion dollars'worth of oil this year. ''They were also importing 12,000 cases per month of scotch whisky,'' she charged.

She said she was not sure if this was food or medicine, but it was proof that there was plenty of money for President Saddam Hussein to provide for his people. ''The elite was living very well,'' she added.

Albright said the United States would not agree to lift sanctions until Iraq was relieved of all its weapons of mass destruction and deprived of the military capability to produce such weapons in the future.

''Saddam Hussein was not invented. He had crossed an international boundary, invaded another country, raped and pillaged and helped destroy the way that country operated,'' she added.

''He had lied about the fact that he had weapons of mass destruction. He had prevented the United Nations (arms) inspectors from entering Iraq. He had refused to abide by the will of the international community. This was not an issue that was based on her tenure. It was one that was American policy,'' Albright asserted.

Speaking on behalf of the 15-member European Union (EU), French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told a UN news conference early this month that France continued to believe that the UN embargo on Iraq should be lifted.

But action on this, he pointed out, should be taken within the framework of Security Council resolutions which ensured the security of countries neighbouring Iraq.

''France believed that the sanctions had become primitive, outdated and economically absurd,'' he added.

However, that was not a view shared by all 15 countries of the EU, and it appeared that Iraq was still not prepared to accept the provisions of UN resolutions, he added.

Copyright 2000 IPS