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La situación humanitaria en Iraq, el programa humanitario 'Petróleo por Alimentos' y los derechos humanos

Centenares de personalidades y organizaciones de todo el mundo firman un documento exigiendo el fin del embargo contra Iraq y rechazando la amenaza de guerra / No more economic sanctions. The iraqi people have suffered enough!

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¡Paremos la guerra! Página especial de CSCAweb

English / Iraq

The US and the new resolution 1409 on Iraq:

Maintain the Embargo, Lie to International Opinion, Gain Time for the War

Arab Cause Solidarity Committee, 16 May, 2002.
CSCAweb (, 22-05-02

On Tuesday, 14 May, the Security Council approved a new resolution on the embargo against Iraq ­ number 1409. Presented by the US as a benefit to the Iraqi people, the new resolution will in no way bring any appreciable relief to the country's humanitarian situation, while it will permit the Bush administration to gain time to prepare its military intervention against Iraq

On Tuesday, 14 May, the Security Council (SC) of the United Nations (UN) approved unanimously (with "strong reservations" on the part of Syria, at present not a permanent member of the Council) a new resolution on the embargo against Iraq, number 1409 [1], considered by the international organisation to be "the second major change" in the humanitarian program known as "oil-for-food" (resolution 986) since resolution 1284 was approved in September, 1999 [2]. The resolution, negotiated over the course of the past year by the members of the SC ­and especially by the US and Russia­, was approved only days before the conclusion of the eleventh phase of the oil-for-food program, which has been renewed every six months since its initiation in December, 1996.

A more effective procedure?

The two ex-coordinators of the UN's humanitarian program for Iraq, Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck ­who resigned in 1999 and 2000, respectively, due to their consideration that the program was ineffective­, have already warned against the fallacy of supposing that present measures will noticeably improve the country's humanitarian situation [3]. Russia's own ambassador to the SC, Sergey Lavrov, repeated this again after the resolution was approved: "Only by the lifting of sanctions will Iraq be able to rebuild its economy"[4].

Since the oil-for-food program went into effect, Iraq has been allowed to export petroleum, initially in limited quantities, at present with no restrictions at all. The money obtained from the sale of its petroleum is deposited in an account with the BNP in New York, an account administered exclusively by the Secretary General of the UN and to which the government of Iraq has absolutely no access. From this account, the Secretary General makes various payments ­ the greatest of these being the so-called "war debt"; formerly 30%, for the last year it has been 25% of the income deposited ­, finally leaving less than half of the funds deposited for the purchase of products.

But not even this percentage can be used entirely for that purpose. Each contract signed by Iraq with an enterprise from a third country must be approved by the designated Sanctions Committee (or 661 Committee), which mirrors the structure of the SC; that is to say, with its permanent members having the right to veto. All contracts which the US and Great Britain consider to include products susceptible to double use (civil and military) are paralysed. Result: currently, more than 5 billion dollars are blocked, and may not be used for other contracts or to acquire other products. Kofi Annan has reiterated that this situation is unacceptable. The consequence is that the US and Great Britain, despite their brazen affirmation that there is no longer any restriction on the quantity of petroleum which Iraq may export, have effectively hindered ­as Halliday and Sponeck have denounced­ the country's socio-economic recovery and normalisation, by prohibiting the entry of articles which are key and essential elements to such recovery: those related to the sectors of telecommunications, electrical power (even in Baghdad, daily power outages may be of up to two hours, and of much greater duration outside the capital), water treatment, agriculture and the petrochemical industry (to the extent that Iraq is unable to renovate its deteriorated petroleum industry in order to pump and export more crude oil).

What will the situation be as of now? Firstly, the resolution approved maintains the designated financial control of Iraq and the distribution of income from the sale of petroleum; that is, the first strategic mechanism of what we have denominated the process of the country's re-colonization. The second aspect is the question of commercial and technological control, which the new resolution not only does not alleviate but restricts even further: under the procedure now approved, a new list of articles considered to be of double use has been established, the "Goods Review List" [5], which includes in its more than 300 pages all of those items which, judged as susceptible to possible military use, will continue to be outlawed by the UN. The list continues to broadly include (although not, as it did before, bicycles, for example) articles and products which, of simple manufacture or unsophisticated technology, are crucial to even the minimal socio-economic recovery of the country. Behind the term "double use", the US seeks to restrict to the maximum the access to technology ­and to development­ of Iraq or of any other country.

From now on all contracts signed by Iraq for the purchase of any product must be ­ as before ­ submitted officially and exhaustively detailed, by mediation of the government of the company concerned, no longer directly to the Sanctions Committee as in the past, but to the UN's Office of the Iraq Program (OIP), which in turn will submit it for evaluation to the UN's special commission for the disarmament of Iraq (the UNIMOVIC -UN Monitoring and Verification Commission- successor to the disaccredited UNSCOM) and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UNIMOVIC and IAEA technicians have 10 days to review the content of the contract. If the contract in question does not include any article from the Goods Review List, it will be authorized by the OIP, but in all cases "subject to [final] approval by the Sanctions Committee" (paragraph 3 of the procedural amendment). If, on the other hand, the contract includes any material or article susceptible to military use, the OIP will be able to directly refuse its approval or, in a case of doubt, refer it to the Sanctions Committee, who will be able to approve or reject it definitively. In the same way, time limits will be established for submitting appeals to the OIP regarding contracts which have been rejected.

As can be observed, a wide range of articles considered as having a double use, the complexity of the procedure (even in the determination of time limits for the approval of contracts) and, the continued existence of the Sanctions Committee ­ with its right-of-veto structure ­ as the final decisive authority, will neither bring about a qualitative increase in the products which may be imported to Iraq, nor will they facilitate the procedure for the entry of such products into the country, as the administrative bottlenecks which have until now affected even strictly humanitarian goods (food and generic medicines) approved without reservation will undoubtedly continue to exist [6].

Maintaining the embargo, deceiving international opinion

The key for the approval of resolution 1409 has been the final acceptance by Russia of the Goods Review List. The notable change of position on the part of Moscow, which a year ago threatened to use its right of veto for the same purpose [7], is motivated by the US's promise to give the green light to contracts signed by Russia and Iraq, which, to the value of 700 million dollars ­of a total formerly said to be 5 billion dollars­, the US and Great Britain have blocked in the Sanctions Committee, for their being considered susceptible to military use by Baghdad. Iraq's disappointment over this has been great, as commercially it had favoured Russia in recent years.

The US has presented the resolution's approval as a benefit to the Iraqi people, who will witness an improvement in their daily lives, and as an advance toward the greater equalisation of sanctions against the regime, rather than against the population of Iraq. However, and predictably, the new resolution will in no way bring any appreciable relief to the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi population, and its approval must be understood, on the contrary, as a success for the Bush administration in its policy against Iraq after the failures of the previous year:

1. The program of sanctions against Iraq will be maintained for six more months. The sanctions continue, while expectations that the embargo would be lifted recede. By focussing the debate over the new resolution on very limited details of the humanitarian program "oil-for food", the Bush administration succeeds in preventing the SC from undertaking a comprehensive review of the dispute between the UN and Iraq ­ treating Iraq's remaining obligations, but equally a reasonable provision for an end to the embargo ­, along the line which Iraq and the UN's Secretary General, Kofi Annan, followed in various discussions during the first half of this year (to be resumed in June) a route of dialogue which, besides being supported for the first time in 12 years by the Arab League, is profoundly irritating to Washington [8].

2. International public opinion is newly confused about the prediction of an appreciable improvement in the humanitarian situation in Iraq. The Bush administration is again trying to silence international criticism about the serious deterioration in the country's humanitarian situation as a consequence of the sanctions, at the same time causing the responsibility for the crisis in which the Iraqi people live to fall on the regime of Saddam Hussein. As we have seen, the resolution just approved takes in very limited aspects of the systems valid up to now for the approval of contracts signed by Iraq with third countries: nothing more. The central nucleus of the sanctions­ economic, commercial and technological control­ will persist.

Gaining time for the war

With the approval of this resolution, the US gains time in its preparations to launch an attack against Iraq. As occurred in the renewal of the humanitarian programme last November, with full military intervention under way in Afghanistan, the Bush administration does not want now, when the regional crisis caused by the Israeli government's military offensive against the Palestinian Autonomous Areas of Cisjordan is hardly resolved, to risk provoking a bitter debate in the heart of the SC by forcing the approval of other aspects initially included under what were called "smart sanctions" (measures for controlling counties which border Iraq, greater financial control of petroleum exports, etc.), as in the case a year ago when Russia threatened to use its right to veto [9].

Today, the predominant strategy of the Bush administration with respect to Iraq is a military attack on the country next autumn or in the first months of 2003, including a change of government [10]. While it tries to resolve the Palestinian crisis ­with new declarations of support for the creation of a Palestinian state ­, conquer the resistance of its traditional allies in the region ­ particularly Turkey and Saudi Arabia ­ to a new war, and design, with the Iraqi opposition, a plan for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US has no interest in seeing itself trapped in debates and commitments within a body ­ the United Nations or its Security Council ­ to which it will not recognise sanctioning authority when it finally decides to initiate its new war in the Middle East. The Bush administration no longer even considers it relevant ­except as an excuse­ to the halting of its final attack on Iraq whether or not disarmament inspectors return to the country, a measure which Baghdad does not oppose so categorically as it did before, provided that an appropriate procedure is established for this, within the framework, as mentioned before, of a considered and comprehensive evaluation of what these 12 years of embargo have meant [11].


1. The text of resolution 1409 may be consulted at:

2. For an evaluation of the "oil-for-food" program and resolution 1284, see:
La situación humanitaria en Iraq, el programa humanitario 'Petróleo por Alimentos' y los derechos humanos

3. As indicated in their manifesto promoted and published recently in the International Herald Tribune (Hundreds of personalities and organisations from all over the world sign a document demanding the end of the embargo against Iraq and rejecting the threat of war:
No more economic sanctions. The iraqi people have suffered enough!)

4. The New York Time News Service, May 15, 2002.

5. Document S/2002/515. The approval of this new List was contemplated en paragraph 2 of resolution 1382 this past November, approved upon the termination of the previous phase of the humanitarian program.

6. Sarah Graham-Brown: "Sanctions Renewed in Iraq", MERIP Press Information Note no. 96, 14 May, 2002.

7. See: Grave revés para la estrategia de EEUU de imponer en el Consejo de Seguridad una nueva resolución de endurecimiento de las sanciones contra Iraq

8. See: Hans von Sponeck: "Iraq: una solución política"

9. See: Gran Bretaña y EEUU presentan al Consejo de Seguridad el borrador de una nueva resolución sobre el embargo a Iraq and Grave revés para la estrategia de EEUU de imponer en el Consejo de Seguridad una nueva resolución de endurecimiento de las sanciones contra Iraq

10. See: El Pentágono estudia atacar Iraq en noviembre o diciembre próximos

11. As expressed by Mr Tariq Aziz before the delegates of the Baghdad Conference in May, 2002.