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Write to The Guardian

The following appeared in today's Guardian (the news broke too late to
make yesterday's edition). So that means you get a second opportunity to
write to the papers !
Letters should be e-mailed to


Iraq turns off oil to wrongfoot the UN

David Hirst in Beirut and Julian Borger in Washington 
Wednesday November 24, 1999 

Iraq yesterday halted its oil exports in protest at a security council
decision last week to grant a very limited extension of the United Nations
oil-for-food humanitarian programme - just a token two weeks, rather than
the usual six months. Baghdad called the move a "declaration of war". 
President Saddam Hussein has not made his intentions clear, but UN
officials and other observers said they thought the stoppage was a gesture
or tactical manoeuvre, and would be short-lived. 

The possibility cannot be ruled out, however, that Baghdad is resuming the
strategy of defiance and confrontation last seen a year ago when Iraq
expelled UN disarmament inspectors. An Anglo-American bombing campaign

The Iraqi decision immediately drove up the crude oil price to $27 (almost
#17) a barrel, its highest since before the 1990-91 gulf war. 

Andrew Parasiliti, an Iraq specialist at Harvard's Kennedy School of
Government, said President Saddam "is playing with a weak hand and one
card he has in his hand is oil" to try to get international sanctions on
his country eased without agreeing to a full UN weapons-monitoring regime. 

The oil flow from the Iraqi port of Mina al-Bakr and through the Turkish
port of Ceyhan was turned off soon after the security council's decision
not to renew the oil-for-food programme (in which Baghdad can sell oil to
buy food and medicines) by the usual six months. 

Iraq said that in a two-week period it could not sign contracts to export
oil. But a diplomat in Baghdad said the exports would resume immediately
if the council agreed a new six-month deal. 

The council's decision in New York was part of a long and contentious
debate over how UN weapons inspections might be resumed. On the disposal
of its weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqi regime has never got the
clean bill of health required for the UN to lift the sanctions it imposed
when Iraq invaded Kuwait. 

A British-Dutch draft resolution at the UN offers Iraq the prospect of
sanctions being suspended after arms inspectors are readmitted. Iraq, with
Russian support, wants sanctions lifted as soon as the inspectors arrive. 

The stop to oil exports came at a time when the diplomatic battle was
moving against Baghdad. France, normally sympathetic to Iraq, is said to
be leaning towards the British-Dutch resolution, and there were press
reports last week that the Russians were offering to go along with this if
the US agreed to muffle its criticism of the war in Chechnya -a rumour
denied by Moscow. 

Whatever resolution emerges, Iraq now seems set to reject it. On Sunday
the Iraqi leadership issued a statement calling the British-Dutch proposal
"an imperialist plan which aims to keep sanctions in place for many years
to come". 

Earlier, the deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said Iraq would "resist
any new UN demands to cooperate with foreign weapons inspectors so long as
punishing economic sanctions remain in effect". 

Yesterday, the Baghdad newspaper al-Jumhuriyah said "all the signs are
that what is being prepared is another declaration of war on Iraq. The
draft resolution will grant a new disarmament body the same power as the
commission of spies" - a reference to the defunct Unscom disarmament body
whose return Baghdad categorically rejects. 

The cut in oil exports will not immediately affect the flow of food and
medicine to Iraq. From the $8.3bn (#5bn) it earned under the food-for-oil
programme in the last six-month period, Iraq is said to have some $2bn in
goods on order and $2bn in reserves. 

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