Sanctions-hit Iraq hinted Wednesday it could halt crude exports in protest at delays in the UN approval process for imports and in the release of oil revenues.
"What interest and what need does Iraq have in continuing to pump crude when oil revenues are piling up in banks and contracts (for imports) piling up at the secretariat of the UN sanctions committee?" asked Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz.
"Until when will this comedy of 'holds' on contracts continue and what need does Iraq have to continue pumping its oil?" he asked in a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, quoted by the official news agency INA.
"The Iraqi people are asking why the oil revenues are not being used to buy food, medicine and humanitarian needs," Aziz wrote.
"The revenues accumulated in the French bank BNP-Paribas reached $11.372 billion on November 2. The Iraqi people are not benefiting from these revenues which have been suspended and quasi-frozen."
Under the UN oil-for-food program, funds are withdrawn from the escrow account in New York to finance Iraqi import contracts, most of which need the approval of a Security Council sanctions committee.
Iraq has been under sanctions ever since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait but the oil-for-food programme allows Baghdad to export crude under strict UN supervision to finance imports of humanitarian supplies for its 22-million population.
A total of 1,328 contracts worth almost $2.38 billion - around the same figure as given by the United Nations in its latest update - are now "on hold", complained Aziz.
His letter came less than a month before the six-monthly UN programme goes up for renewal on December 6. - (AFP)
© Agence France Presse.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)