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RE: [casi] J.Goldberg's controversial article in The New Yorker

> Can any-one shed light on this excerpt of the New Yorker article? As I
> understand it the allocation in oil for food for the 3 kurdish provinces
> run separately to the rest of the country.

> [excerpt] The oil-for-food program has one enormous flaw, he replied. When
> the program was introduced, the Kurds were promised thirteen per cent of
> the country's oil revenue, but because of the terms of the agreement
> between Baghdad and the U.N. a "defect," Salih said  the government
> controls the flow of food, medicine, and medical equipment to the very
> people it slaughtered. Food does arrive, he conceded, and basic medicines
> as well, but at Saddam's pace.

Hi Peter and others,

Yes, OFF is administered differently in Iraqi Kurdistan than it is in the
rest of Iraq.  The programme is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding
(MOU) between the Iraqi government and the UN which is renewed at the
beginning of each six-month Phase of programme.  The MOU is based on a
recognition of the Iraqi government's sovereignty over south/centre Iraq as
well as Iraqi Kurdistan; this reflects the view upheld in Security Council
resolutions.  UN operations in the north are therefore undertaken on behalf
of the Iraqi government, and not in conjunction with the Kurdish regional

This is an unusual arrangement, and causes all sorts of difficulties from
the point of view of local implementation.  One that I just learned about
recently is the legal: when the UN's installed something in the north, it
retains legal responsibility for it (having no one to turn it over to) and,
therefore, is liable for any damages resulting from its use or misuse (e.g.
suppose that a well was drilled and that it later turned out that the well's
water was contaminated, killing a number of its users; the UN could be held
legally responsible for this).  While I don't know of any legal action along
these lines that has been taken, I understand that UN insurance expenses are
higher than they might be otherwise.  A related, and possibly more serious,
legal impediment is that UN staff working in the north require visas from
the Iraqi government, granting the Iraqi government a veto over effective UN
operations there.  Last year there was a real fear that the Iraqi government
was going to close down the programme in the north: it was refusing to issue
large numbers of visas (claiming that international UN staff were much more
expensive than equally qualified Iraqis).

In the case of goods delivered under OFF, things are purchased for Iraqi
Kurdistan under two mechanisms.  First, for many 'bulk' goods (e.g. food,
medical supplies, etc.), the UN agencies in Iraqi Kurdistan submit their
orders to the government in Baghdad, which then places a bulk order.
Second, for less 'bulk' goods, UN agencies contract directly.  In all cases,
the contracts must go through the UN (either to the Iraq Sanctions Committee
or, if they only have 'green list' items, merely to the Office of the Iraq

When goods have been purchased through the 'bulk' mechanism, the
south/centre subaccount (59% account) in the UN-escrow account pays for the
whole lot, but is then reimbursed by the Iraqi Kurdistan subaccount (13%
account) for purchases made for that region.  I know that, a few years ago,
UN reports on OFF claimed that this reimbursement had fallen behind
schedule, but I don't know whether this is still the case, or why that was.

>From the Iraqi Kurds' point of view, I have heard claims that goods
delivered under the 'bulk' mechanism have been of sub-standard quality.
While I've not looked closely into this, I suspect that the charge implies
that the Iraqi government is intentionally directing the worst of the
received goods to the north.  I suppose that it's also possible that the
long journey up from Umm Qasr in the south of Iraq to the north causes goods
to go off, but I've not heard this explanation.

I have also learned recently from what I regard as a good source that the
warehouses used to house food for distribution in Iraqi Kurdistan are
located in south/central Iraq.  This increases the Iraqi government's
control over food distribution in the north.

> Indeed, this has been used by pro-sanctions advocates who say
> that because the kurds are in control of their part of the program,
> the life of kurds has improved (re infant and child majority etc.),
> where as in Iraq  Saddam Hussein is deliberately starving his own
> people so that's why things haven't improved in the rest of the
> country, and you can't blame the sanctions or the inadequecy of the
> program. But he seems to be contradicting this assessment.

Some UN officials appreciate the joke: the US regularly condemns the UN's
inefficiency - and, indeed, justifies its decisions not to pay its
membership fees in these terms - but then praises its efficient work in

It is certainly the case that OFF has improved matters throughout Iraq.  It
is also the case that there are more differences between Iraqi Kurdistan and
S/C Iraq than just UN v. Baghdad administration.  The usual ones cited are
(i) more generous endowment of OFF in the North; (ii) more external
charitable support (partly because Baghdad makes it so hard for charities to
work in the South/Sentre); (iii) a more agricultural economy; (iv)
considerable smuggling revenue; (v) more favourable treatment by the
Sanctions Committee.

Yes, the Iraqi government interferes with the programme; yes, Security
Council members do too.  The most recent example of this is the 'retroactive
pricing' debate (see the oil overseers report at a 1 March Reuters article
pointed out that retroactive pricing may have cost the humanitarian
programme $750 million, in order to prevent $40 million in kickbacks to the
Iraqi government.

I hope that this helps; please let me know if it raises any further


Colin Rowat

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