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1991-1996: Negotiating oil-for-food

Oil-for-food -- the humanitarian exception to the UN embargo of Iraq -- was
not implemented until five years after the Gulf War.  The humanitarian
consequences of the delay are being felt to this day, and the question
inevitably arises ... "Who's to blame?"  

Following are excerpts from a) Human Rights Watch and b) former UN Secretary
General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's book concerning the early years of the
embargo.  They offer no simple answer to the question of blame, other than
making it clear -- it takes two to tango.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA
Footnote 9 of HRW's "Explanatory Memorandum" on Iraq (see
"9. Report to the Secretary-General on Humanitarian Needs in Iraq by a
Mission led by Sadruddin Aga Khan, Executive Delegate of the
Secretary-General, 15 July 1991. The report estimated that it would cost $22
billion to restore Iraq's key sectors--power, water, sanitation, food,
health, and oil--to pre-war levels, and proposed a limited UN-controlled
sale of Iraqi oil to fund a portion of the country's humanitarian needs.
Sadruddin Aga Khan suggested a sum of $6.9 billion for the first year, with
an initial four-month sale of $2.65 billion (one-third plus start-up costs).
After several weeks of debate in July 1991, Resolutions 706 and 712 were
adopted in August and September allowing Iraq to sell $1.6 billion over six
months, with thirty percent to go to the UN Compensation Fund and about four
percent for UN expenses in Iraq, including UNSCOM, leaving $930 million for
humanitarian imports over six months, compared to the $2.6 billion over four
months proposed in the report. The Council resisted efforts of the
secretary-general to raise the six-month allotment to $2.4 billion. The
other major discrepancy between the report and the resolutions concerned the
account in which the sums would be deposited: Sadruddin proposed a special
account within the Iraqi State Oil and Marketing Organization, which would
be open to Security Council scrutiny and from which payments could be made
only for Council-approved humanitarian imports, while the resolutions
specified a UN-controlled account. Yet another issue of contention was the
question of in-country monitoring of the distribution of the imported
commodities. Iraq never accepted the terms of the two resolutions, although
intermittent negotiations continued until late 1993."

Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's memoirs, "Unvanquished"
(Random House, N.Y., 1999)

[P.24; Four weeks after BBG took office, the Security Council met with heads
of state participating]:
"Presiden Bush was specific.  He made two demands: No normalization with
Iraq was possible as long as Saddam Hussein remained in power.  (The second
concerned Libya.)  ... The American president's demands worried me, because
Iraq and Libya would expect me, as an Arab, to understand their point of
view, while the United States would expect me to follow its lead in
pressuring these 'pariah' states."

[P. 208-9, on the genesis of oil for food and the 'contradictory character
of sanctions']:
"From this point on (the passing of SCR 712 on Sep-18, 1991), 'Oil for Food'
became the story of my own quixotic attempt to obtain Iraq's approval of
this program.  The Iraqi people, not Saddam Hussein's regime, were the ones
suffering under sanctions. ...  There was virtually no international
interest in the concept of oil for food.  The impetus for it, such as there
was, came mainly from the UN.  Saddam Hussein seemed to care nothing at all
for the welfare of the poorest Iraqi people; his attitude toward
negotiations would shift back and forth according to his own shadowy
instincts for self-preservation or self-aggrandizement."
"... The first negotiations took place in January 1992.  But Iraq reversed
its decision to participate in the second round.  The Security Council
deplored this action and declared that the government of Baghdad must assume
entire responsibility for the humanitariam problems of its civilian
population.  In another U-turn, Iraq came back to the table in the spring of
1992, but the talks went nowhere.  Again we confronted the fundamentally
contradictory character of sanctions: the innocent population suffers
greatly but the oppressive regime feels little or nothing, while the process
only deepens its control over the people." 

[P. 209, on Saddam Hussein]:
"Whenever I saw Saddam Hussein, he was in uniform.  All his ministers wore
uniforms too, and saluted him in a military way.  When I asked why, I was
told that Iraq was in a state of war.  Saddam thrived on the tension created
by his claims that Iraq was perpetually threatened by an array of enemies, a
claim he used to justify the exceptional powers he assumed under a state of
continuing miitary emergency."
"... Some speculated that Saddam was playing this game (negotiating
oil-for-food) as a way to manipulate the world oil market.  This was not
implausible.  Whenver the oil-for-food talks were reported to go well, the
world market price of oil fell in anticipation of Iraqi oil coming onto the
market; when Saddam Hussein broke off talks, the price of oil rose ...  I
did not, however, accept this theory.  Saddam Hussein thinks of himself as a
romantic hero confronting the forces of evil.  He is totally isolated and
shielded from hard information about world affairs."

[P. 220, on the resumption of negotiations]:
"Considering the worsening food and health situation of the Iraqi people, in
April 1995 the Security Council prepared to adopt Resolution 986, which
would allow Iraq to sell $2 billion in oil every six months in exchange for
$1.3 billion worth of food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies.  (Tariq
Aziz) objected to the resolution because it focused on Iraq's northern
provinces, which constitute Kurdistan, and because it would require most of
the oil be exported via ... Turkey.
'Look', I said to Tariq Aziz, 'in eight months the American election year
begins.  If you don't accept this resolution, we will not return to this
issue until the end of 1996 if President Clinton is elected or even a year
beyond that if he is not elected.' ...  I knew the decision would be made by
Saddam Hussein.  I knew that Iraq had a greater goal: to prevent any
international supervision of the production of Iraqi oil and obtain ... the
end of the embargo.  Resolution 986 was passed unanimously on April 14,
1995.  The next day, Baghdad announced its refusal to accept it.  Oil for
food collapsed again.  (BBG tries to resurrect negotiations with Saddam's
brother.)  'Agree to negotiate', I said.  ... Why delay?  Once the election
year starts, Washington will not want to show flexibility toward Iraq by
signing such an agreement.'"

[P. 259, the homestretch]:
"... on January 7 (1996) I was given a message from Tariq Aziz: If I invited
Iraq to negotiate the 'Oil for Food' formula, Iraq would respond positively.
Nothing is simple when it comes to Iraq ...  Off and on the talks went
through March and April until the Iraqi delegation accepted the mention of
Resolution 986 in a memorandum of understanding with the UN that would
incorporate a new oil-for-food plan.  Then came difficulties with the
Americans and the British (who wanted to preview the plan before the other
members of the Council).  I told (Iraqi) Ambassador) al-Anbari that it would
be in Iraq's best interest for me to pass the proposed plan to the United
States and Britain, because these two 'difficult delegations' were sure to
block 'Oil for Food' if dissatisfied with the text.  Al Anbari protested
energetically, fearing the United States wanted to restart the negotitations
from scratch ..."

[P. 267; Regarding U.S. political concerns (in 1996) over the timing of
sanctions' end]:
"But the United States did not want 'Oil-for-Food' to take place near the
time of the presidential elections.  The administration feared that the
Republicans might cite certain language in the memorandum of understanding
as evidence that Clinton had made concessions to Saddam Hussein.  That is
why the American delegation attached so much importance to form, to
sentences, and to any terms that could be interpreted as restoring
sovereignty to Iraq.  ...  I asked our spokewoman to speak of a humanitarian
victory that transcended the politics and perceptions of either side."
"... In early June al-Anbari submitted a plan for the distribution of the
humanitarian supplies.  ...  Madeleine Albright immediately denounced it,
accusing Iraq of trying to 'drive trucks through loopholes.'   Iraq, she
said was twisting a program to provide food and medicine into one that would
include telephone switching equipment and computers.  Why this attack?  We
had just concluded the agreement.  ...  Why would the U.S. denounce a
resolution it had voted for and a memorandum of understanding it had
practically drafted itself?"

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