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Friday November 20, 9:42 PM Iraq tests waters with request for extension of oil-for-food programme BAGHDAD, Nov 20 (AFP) - Iraq was seen as testing the waters at the United Nations Friday by seeking a two-month extension of the oil-for-food programme that would avoid a commitment to at least six more months of sanctions. Iraq's ambassador in New York, Nizar Hamdoun, told AFP that Iraqi authorities wrote to the current UN Security Council president Peter Burleigh on Thursday "to extend the current phase ... for another two months." But "nothing has been heard officially from the government of Iraq," said George Somerwill, spokesman for the UN humanitarian programme in Baghdad through whose office any such request would have to be passed on to New York. Hamdoun said Iraq wanted the extension rather than a rollover of the six-monthly programme "because we have not exhausted all the money that was supposed to be allocated" for the current, fourth phase. The current phase, which allows Iraq to export limited quantities of oil in return for imports of humanitarian goods, expires on November 25. Each renewal of previous phases has been complicated. The 15-member Security Council had been working this time on the expectation that the programme, launched in December 1996 to ease the hardships of sanctions, would simply go ahead for a further six months. But ahead of a UN "comprehensive review" of sanctions, expected to start next month and on which Baghdad is pinning hopes for a lifting of the oil embargo, a rollover would mean at least six more months of sanctions. The sanctions have been in force ever since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and are linked to Iraq's disarmament. Commerce Minister Mohammad Mahdi Saleh said on November 10 that talks had been taking place with the United Nations on a renewal of the oil-for-food accord but that the programme is "not satisfactory." At present, the deal provides for Baghdad to export up to 5.2 billion dollars worth of oil in return for badly-needed food and medicine. However because of the poor state of its oil infrastructure and the collapse of world oil prices, Baghdad has been unable to meet an agreed target of 4.5 billion dollars. Iraqi exports since the current phase began in June are projected to have generated 3.3 billion dollars by next Wednesday, Somerwill said. He pointed out that the average price of a barrel of Iraqi crude has this week slumped to nine dollars, a fall of 2.5 dollars a barrel over the last four weeks alone. Regarding the spare parts Iraq needs to revamp its oil installations, Somerwill told AFP that the UN sanctions committee has now approved contracts worth almost one third of the 300 million dollars allocated to such imports. Seven more contracts were given the go-ahead in the past week, raising to 139 the total number of approved contracts since June and their overall value to 97.5 million dollars, Somerwill said. The total number of contracts put on hold, worth another 45 million dollars, has reached 96. None of the spare parts has yet arrived, at least partly because they have to be customized, Somerwill said. "Even when clearances come through, it takes a long time for the parts to be made and to come into the country," he said. Meanwhile the backlog of goods waiting to enter Iraq from its borders with Turkey, Syria and Jordan that built up during the crisis over UN arms inspections has been cleared, said Somerwill. The evacuation of Lloyds imports monitors last week, at the same time as UN weapons inspectors and most UN humanitarian staff before the threat of US military strikes subsided, led to a three-day suspension of imports. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html