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Re: A third way?

I am writing to respond to Mark Tribe's 14 March e-mail entitled "A third
way?" [archived at].
In that e-mail he asked about some possible steps to relieve some
suffering while controlling military imports.  Although the thread that he
initiated subsequently continued under the title of "Delinking military
sanctions" I've not seen an answer to his original questions.  As I think
that last year's UN Humanitarian Panel report provided some answers to
these questions, what follows is primarily a presentation of what I feel
to be the relevant parts of that report.
Mark asked whether:

        1. a reduction in the 30% Compensation Fund payments (all 30% goes
        to Compensation; the UN takes an addition 4% or so to run its
        2. expanded imports to allow Iraq to rebuild its civilian
        infrastructure; and
        3. imports undertaken by the international community on behalf of

might improve the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

The first two recommendations have been circulating in the UN system for
at least a year.  I will present their appearance in the UN Humanitarian
Panel report of 30 March 1999 []
as this is the first report that I am familiar with to present these
recommendations in the context of the analysis leading to them.
Subsequent reports haven't, to my knowledge, substantially altered the
understanding presented here.  The one important exception that comes to
mind is that oil prices have significantly increased since March 1999,
which has increased Iraq's ability to generate revenue under "oil for
food".  I'm still reading the 10 March 2000 report [available from] but haven't seen any surprises yet.

Before making its recommendations the report notes that the "oil for food"
programme (i.e. "986 and succeeding resolutions") sets out not to meet all
the humanitarian needs of Iraqis:

        Regardless of the improvements that might be brought about in the
        implementation of the current humanitarian programme - in terms of
        approval procedures, better performance by the Iraqi Government,
        or funding levels - the magnitude of the humanitarian needs is
        such that they cannot be met within the context of the parameters
        set forth in resolution 986 (1995) and succeeding resolutions, in
        particular resolution 1153 (1998). Nor was the programme intended
        to meet all the needs of the Iraqi people. [Paragraph 46]

The panel then proposes "several recommendations it believes may lead to
incremental improvements" [Paragraph 51].  Noting that the "question of
securing additional funding to finance humanitarian efforts is of
paramount importance" [Paragraph 54] it devotes a whole section to means
of securing additional revenue.  One of the suggestions made involves the
Compensation Fund:

        Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 8 (C) of resolution
        986 (1995) to transfer to the United Nations Compensation Fund the
        same percentage of funds deposited in the escrow account as that
        decided by the Council in paragraph 2 or resolution 705 (1991) of
        15 August 1991, the Security Council could authorize -possibly as
        a temporary measure - reducing by an agreed percentage the revenue
        allocated to the United Nations Compensation Commission or
        borrowing from the Compensation fund up to a level to be
        determined by the Council, in order to increase the amount of
        revenue available for the purchase of urgently needed humanitarian
        supplies.  Claims from individuals would be given priority whereas
        Governments and institutions would agree to the deferral of
        payments for their own claims.  [Paragraph 54 (vi)]

This suggestion, that the Security Council agree to a (possibly temporary)
reduction in the percentage of oil revenues paid into the Compensation
Fund, was adopted by the British - Dutch proposal but did not appear in
Security Council Resolution 1284, which passed in December 1999 and
incorporated many of the panel's recommendations.  I had originally
assumed that this was due to US pressure but have subsequently been told
informally that Kuwaiti objections may also have been involved.

Mark also asked whether Compensation Fund payments have been completed.
Not yet.  I've not followed this issue closely but understand that this
has become something of a free-for-all (I met someone from the German
Foreign Ministry involved with filing for compensation for the costs
associated with the extra staff hired by the Ministry during the Gulf

Mark's second suggestion, about infrastructure, is also addressed,
although somewhat more obliquely, by the panel.  The panel reports that
the World Food Programme "considers that food imports alone could not
address the problem of malnutrition in the absence of a drive to
rehabilitate the infrastructure, especially as regards health care and
water/sanitation" [Paragraph 39] and that "malnutrition problems also seem
to stem from the massive deterioration in basic infrastructure" [Paragraph

Therefore improvements in infrastructure are not only required to "improve
the distribution network for relief supplies" [Mark's e-mail] but to allow
the country to begin to rebuild its public health system; infrastructural
investments serve both relief and development ends.

The panel cannot otherwise say much about infrastructure because the "oil
for food" programme does not prohibit infrastructural imports.  That holds
have been placed by the US and UK on infrastructural equipment cannot
really be addressed because members of the Security Council are free to
place holds on whatever they wish.  The panel does suggest, though, the
possibility of foreign investment "that might positively impact on the
humanitarian situation, particularly in terms of reconstruction and
infrastructure rehabilitation" [Paragraph 54 (iii)].

Mark's third suggestion, that perhaps others could take control of Iraq's
imports, is more tricky for at least two reasons.  The first is a
technical one.  Iraq is officially regarded as a sovereign state.  Of
course, the de facto partitioning of the country and the US and UK
declared "no fly zones" mean that, in practice, Iraq's sovereignty is not
entirely respected.  Nevertheless, to take over the control of imports
would be a further incursion on Iraq's sovereignty and the Government of
Iraq would certainly regard this as such.  This would create, I imagine
two problems: first, the Government of Iraq would refuse to permit
distribution of these contracts; and, second, no country would be
interested in challenging Iraq on this issue.  Invading the air space of a
country that can't shoot you down is a much simpler matter than trying to
move convoys through the territory of a hostile government.

The second difficulty is that it's always been unclear to me to what
extent the current programme could be improved by a "better" Iraqi
government run by the UN.  Paragraph 37 of the panel report addresses
this, I think:

        While there is agreement that the Government could do more to make
        the "oil for food" programme work in a better and more timely
        fashion, it was not clear to what extent the problems encountered
        could be attributed to deliberate action or inaction on the part
        of the Iraqi Government. It is generally recognized that certain
        sectors such as electricity work smoothly while drug supplies
        suffer from delays in distribution. But mismanagement, funding
        shortages (absence of the so called "cash component") and a
        general lack of motivation might also explain such delays. While
        food and medicine had been explicitly exempted by Security Council
        resolution 661, controls imposed by resolution 986 had, at times,
        created obstacles to their timely supply. 

All of this said, the anecdotal evidence suggests that the Iraqi
government has made its own survival and the advancement of its political
aims higher priorities than the well-being of its population.  I've not
followed the whole "why does the Iraqi government insist on importing baby
milk powder?" debate but it has seemed to me that political motives are
driving this and some other similar decisions.  The new 10 March report
notes that the Iraqi government has declined to establish mobile import
testing stations along its border, requiring some items to be flown to
Geneva for testing [Paragraph 71]; while I do not yet understand this
situation it does seem likely that this might be a political game.

In conclusion, then, there are many steps that can be taken to improve the
humanitarian situation in Iraq without, in my mind, significantly
increasing the military risk posed by Iraq.  Two of the three suggestions
made by Mark were addressed by the UN Security Council's humanitarian
panel report, which believed that these measures "may lead to incremental
improvements".  The report's final words, though, were:

        In presenting the above recommendations to the Security Council,
        the panel reiterates its understanding that the humanitarian
        situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the absence of
        a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy, which in turn cannot be
        achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts. [Paragraph

Mark's third suggestion was not addressed by the panel.  I imagine that
this was because the panel was unable to make suggestions that compromised
Iraq's sovereignty.

I hope that these thoughts are of some assistance.

Best wishes,

Colin Rowat

Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq               fax 0870 063 5022

393 King's College  
Cambridge CB2 1ST             tel: +44 (0)468 056 984
England                       fax: +44 (0)870 063 4984

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