Britain on Friday hit back at claims that the international trade embargo on Iraq is hurting innocent Iraqis, saying it was up to Baghdad to get the sanctions suspended.
Peter Hain, junior minister at Britain's Foreign Office, was responding to criticism from Hans Von Sponeck, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.
Hain accused Von Sponeck and other critics of the sanctions of being "effective fellow travellers and apologists for maintenance of the Iraqi regime's brutal rule under Saddam Hussein."
He told BBC radio that Saddam must bear the responsibility for any damage done by the sanctions, which were intended to pressure Iraq into allowing arms inspectors into the country.
"Britain has been in the lead, and I personally, as the minister responsible, have been in the lead in seeking to get the sanctions suspended," Hain said.
"They could be suspended and I would like them to be, within 180 days of Saddam Hussein allowing arms inspectors into Baghdad and the rest of the country."
The sanctions regime was imposed by the UN Security Council in the aftermath of the 1990 Gulf War.
International arms inspectors were sent to verify that Saddam had abandoned his programme to build weapons of mass destruction but they were barred from returning, prompting the UN sanctions.
In recent months, there has been increasing pressure, in particular from Russia and France, to relax the sanctions. Critics argue they make life hard for the poor while the elite are not affected.
A number of countries have flouted the embargo by allowing civilian flights to Iraq to resume.
Von Sponeck resigned from his UN job over the issue of his sanctions. He called UN resolution 1284, which set up the embargo, "a stillborn creation for which the people of Iraq continue to pay dearly." -- LONDON (AFP)
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