New ‘smart’ sanctions against Iraq will have to wait, for now

Published June 1st, 2001 - 02:00 GMT
Al Bawaba
Al Bawaba

One of the “stars” of the 1991 Gulf War were the smart bombs used by the US-led allied forces against Iraq. Computer-guided and employing sophisticated technology, they were supposed to pinpoint their targets so that innocent bystanders would be spared. This, as was tragically proven time and time again, did not always happen. 


Ten years later, in what still is the aftermath of the Gulf War, a new “intelligent” weapon was about to be employed, in the ongoing battle against Iraq’s invulnerable president, Saddam Hussein—the “smart” sanction. 


In 1990, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the United Nations endorsed a sanctions regime that essentially blocked the import and export of all goods, to and from Iraq. And, while it was unsuccessful in unseating the Iraqi president, it did cause catastrophic damage to the national economy and suffering generally to the weaker strata of Iraqi society. In 1996 the sanctions were tailored into the Oil for Food program, according to which the Iraqis could export oil products in return for food and other basic items. 


Five years on, and facing an international community increasingly uncomfortable about imposing a strict sanctions regime against a country that lost a war a decade earlier, the United States chose to champion the cause of the smart sanction, which was meant to embargo only those items to which it and its allies believe that Iraq should have no access to, and at the same time allowing free trade in all other areas.  


Essentially, the new policy represented a complete turnabout in its approach. No longer would the Iraqis be told what they could import. Instead they would be told what they couldn’t import. And what they will not be allowed to buy, that is items that ostensibly could help Iraq build up its arsenal of weaponry, and in particular non-conventional systems and long-distance missile technology. 


On May 29, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Russia and the United States met in Budapest to discuss the status of the UN sanctions regime against Iraq. The current term of the Oil for Food program was scheduled to expire in June 1. 


The first among equals at the meeting, US Secretary of State Colin Powell had hoped the smart sanction formula would be adopted, so replacing the Oil for Food program. Standing quietly in the wings were many in the US business community—most supporters of Powell’s Republican Party, who for months had been frustrated at their government strict enforcement of sanction against Iraq, while their European and Asian competitors were already jostling for position at Baghdad’s front door. 


But Powell was to be disappointed. At the Budapest gathering, Russia’s foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, requested that his government be given more time for its experts to review the details of sanctioned items. In the absence of the smart sanction system, the Oil for food program would have to be renewed for a further six months. 


The smart sanctions system, which was formulated together by the United States and Britain, envisioned maintaining the escrow account through which the Oil for Food program has been managed, and using some of the revenues to pay Iraq's UN dues to strengthen anti-smuggling controls. The Iraqis were virulently opposed to the idea, and their deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, threatened to stop supplying oil to Jordan and Turkey if they co-operate with that plan.  


According to a BBC report, the United States has been finding it tough to persuade Turkey, Jordan and Syria to relinquish a lucrative trade in smuggled Iraqi oil. Payment for such sales goes directly to the Iraqi Government, and not into the UN escrow account.  


In the meantime, the international business community is beating a trail to Iraq, expecting the countries lucrative markets will soon be burst wide open. Indeed, it is likely that this tide of opinion is what convinced the usually taciturn United States and British governments to consider a more relaxed sanctions regime. 


And if there is any opposition to the developing smart sanctions systems, it is that is still too restrictive. For, if the truth were told, most countries are looking to open the gateway to Iraq as widely as possible, even some the countries who were beating the war drums most loudly in 1991. 


Take Saudi Arabia for instance. According to a recent article in London Al-Majallah, trade between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which began with the start of the Oil for Food program in 1996 today totals $600 million. 


Speaking to London Al-Majallah, Dr. Fakhri Rayshan, the director general of the Foreign Economic Relations Department at the Iraqi Trade Ministry, said that there has been a marked increase in trade Saudi Arabia during the most recent session of the program, and this fits in with a standing Iraqi policy of giving preference to commercial enterprises based in other Arab countries. 


Rayshan stressed that while no Saudi-Iraqi trade was taking place outside the Oil for Food program, a good many Saudi forms were waiting in line to enter the Iraqi market. 


And that number is likely to get larger. The Ar'ar border post, which is the largest cargo-handling facility at a crossing between the two countries, is currently being refurbished on the Iraqi side by companies affiliated to the housing and construction ministry in Baghdad. Earlier this year, the Saudi Land Transport Company announced that it signed a contract with the Baghdad authorities for direct exports across the border between the two countries.  


It should be noted that, from the Saudi Arabian perspective, its involvement in the Oil for Food program is essentially a means to gain a foothold in the Iraqi market. As the world’s largest oil producer, it is unlikely that an oil supply from Iraq was Saudi Arabia’s primary concern. – (MENA Report)

© 2001 Mena Report (

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