Letter: Iraq's unsafe havens

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Faisal al-Sabah (letter, 1 September) writes that Saddam Hussein "refused to sell oil to buy food and medicines for the Iraqi people for five years" with the aim of using "the suffering of the Iraqi people to pressurise the United Nations into removing sanctions". The reality is somewhat more complex.

There is considerable evidence that the original "oil-for-food" resolutions (706 and 712, passed in August and September 1991 respectively) were designed to be refused. Writing in 1992, David Fine noted that, even by late July, "UN officials were convinced ... that the US intention was to present Saddam Hussein with so unattractive a package that Iraq would reject it and thus take on the blame, at least in Western eyes, for continued civilian suffering" (Middle East Report, January/February 1992).

The 1991 "oil-for-food" resolutions offered Iraq oil sales of $1.6bn per six-month period. Thirty per cent of any funds raised were to be allocated to the UN Compensation Fund. The UN Secretary General was unsuccessful in his attempt to have the ceiling raised to $2.4bn.

This was despite the fact that there was no "humanitarian" rationale for there to be any ceiling on these sales since the Security Council was to control the bank account, approve every purchase contract and monitor the distribution of supplies inside Iraq. The Independent reported that "President Saddam might have accepted" oil-for-food if a higher sum had been agreed (report, 22 November 1991).

Oil-for-food was, quite simply, a propaganda device - "a good way to maintain the bulk of sanctions and not be on the wrong side of a potentially emotive issue," in the words of one US official (The Independent, 24 July 1991).


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