Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq for 13 months, made a fierce attack on UN policy towards Iraq, saying the embargo, imposed in 1990, "probably strengthens the leadership and further weakens the people of the country". He added that sanctions were incompatible with the UN charter as well as the UN convention on human rights and the rights of the child.
Mr Halliday, 57, who is Irish, is resigning from the UN after 30 years. Although he decided in July to leave Baghdad he spelt out his unhappiness only on the eve of his departure.
He said: "Four thousand to five thousand children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation."
As UN co-ordinator Mr Halliday was in charge of the oil-for-food deal whereby Iraq is allowed to export pounds 3bn of oil every six months, of whichpounds 1.8bn is spent on humanitarian relief. The rest is spent in compensation for victims of the Gulf war and paying for UN operations in Iraq.
The first food under the deal arrived last year, but Mr Halliday said that the problem was the collapse of the Iraqi infrastructure because of sanctions.
He said: "I'm beginning to see a change in the thinking of the United Nations, the Secretary-General, many of the member states who have realised, through Iraq in particular, that sanctions are a failure and the price you extract for sanctions is unacceptably high." He said states should look again at sanctions as a means of getting governments to change their policies.
In theory sanctions will not be lifted until Iraq has satisfied the UN that it has destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. But senior US officials have also said that they will stay in place so long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. Mr Halliday said he objected to the politicised and "open-ended" nature of the weapons search.
Among the effects of sanctions, Mr Halliday listed the increase of crime and pros- titution in Iraq and the exodus of skilled Iraqis to other countries. He said that many ordinary Iraqis were taking refuge in religion in a similar way to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and young Iraqis considered their leaders excessively moderate in responding to sanctions.
Speaking of his differences with Benon Sevan, the head of the UN oil- for-food programme in New York, Mr Halliday said: "I find myself being second- guessed by a headquarters that does not understand the Iraq that I understand, living and working here."
The likelihood of sanctions ending soon has been reduced by claims from Scott Ritter, a former US Marine intelligence officer and chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the UN, that Iraq could make three or four 20-kiloton nuclear bombs if it could obtain enriched uranium. US officials say they find the claim credible though International Atomic Energy Agency officials say Captain Ritter's report has "no credibility".
Saddam Hussein's half-brother, who was Iraq's ambassador to the UN headquarters in Geneva, refused to return to Iraq after his diplomatic service ended last month, Arab diplomats said yesterday. Al-Tikriti sent his resignation to Saddam, who immediately put under house arrest al- Tikriti's two brothers.