Only total lifting of sanctions can help Iraq’s economic recovery

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Baghdad preempted with flat rejection the British draft resolution for revising the economic sanctions regime. This was formally submitted to the Security Council on Tuesday. Iraq countered the British proposal, made at the behest of the US, by demanding the total lifting of the punitive embargo imposed in August 1990. While Baghdad’s reaction was predictable, the stance of China and Russia, two permanent Security Council members, could not be predicted.

Last weekend Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Moscow disagreed with elements of the draft. On Tuesday Russia tabled a counterproposal to extend the current oil-for-food programme and postponed consideration of the British draft. China, angered over a series of political gaffes by the Bush administration, is likely to back Russia. France, the fifth permanent council member, is caught in the middle.

This means that it is unlikely that the council will approve the “smart sanctions” proposal, as London and Washington would like, before June 3, when the oil-for-food programme comes up for renewal. And if the US and Britain attempt to postpone or interfere with the roll-over of the oil-for-food programme, Iraq has threatened to suspend it altogether.

The British proposal is being promoted as a “major shift” by the US and UK from the total embargo which is now killing Iraqi civilians at the rate of 10,000 a month. But this plan, characterised as “smart sanctions,” does not, in reality, provide for an easing of the hardline policy adopted since 1990 by Washington and London towards Iraq. Instead, if approved, the proposal would strengthen the hold of the US-dominated Security Council on Iraq’s economy and extend council’s control to the territory of Iraq’s neighbours, infringing on their sovereignty.

Under “smart sanctions,” most restrictions on trade with Iraq would, theoretically, be lifted. The only items banned would be military related items which would be placed on a 30 page list prepared by the US. At present these two council members prevent Iraq from importing a whole range of goods essential for normal civilian life. These include ambulances, medical equipment, chemicals for water purification and equipment to repair the country’s deteriorating oil sector. At present, thanks to US and British obstructionism, $3 billion worth of contracts for purchases are “on hold” and $15 billion in Iraqi oil earnings remain in the bank, unspent on urgently needed civilian necessities, because Baghdad sees no point in placing orders which will, inevitably, receive the same treatment.

Absolute US/UK control will also be guaranteed by the retention of council supervision over Iraq’s oil exports and revenues. Contracts will continue to be vetted by the council’s Sanctions Committee and earnings must be paid into a UN-operated escrow account. These provisions give the Sanctions Committee ultimate authority over Iraq’s major natural resource, as well as the bulk of its financial resources.

Under the British plan, commercial and cargo flights would be permitted to resume as long as they are inspected at departure points. Train services would also be allowed to run, if monitored. This means that Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates will be compelled to permit UN-designated inspectors to monitor all air and land traffic to Iraq. Furthermore, countries which allow Iraq to export oil by road, rail or pipeline outside the ambit of the oil-for-food programme would be compelled to stop the “smuggling” and subjected to monitoring.

The US hopes that halting “smuggling” would deprive the Iraqi government of its only independent source of income. The US is proposing to compensate the countries benefiting from “smuggling” by increasing from 25 to 30 per cent the slice of Iraq’s oil revenues dedicated to reparations. This means that Iraq would end up paying countries to strangle its government and economy. Thus, if approved by the council, the “smart sanctions” regime would tighten controls over Iraq and reverse the erosion which has taken place over the past year in the original sanctions programme.

Humanitarian agencies working in Iraq argue that only the total lifting of sanctions can put Iraq, devastated by ten years of blockade, back on the road to economic recovery. An authoritative source close to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told this correspondent that Annan is unable to act against the sanctions regime. In the view of this source, the only positive aspect of the tussle between the US and UK, on the one hand, and opponents of sanctions, on the other, is that “there will never be another sanctions regime of such a sweeping magnitude imposed for an undefined period of time on any other country”.

If and when the council decides to impose sanctions on another country, both the scope of the embargo and a time frame will be set. This offers little consolation to the 22 million embattled Iraqis whose lives have been wrecked by sanctions and who have no future because Washington and its acolyte London insist on continuing the blockade of Iraq under the rubric of “smart sanctions”.

Mr. Michael Jansen contributed this article to the Jordan Times.

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