Red faces over Iraq comment

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The Independent Online

A high-profile trade mission by ritish businessmen to aghdad caused embarrassment in London yesterday after its leader was quoted by the Iraqi government news agency as saying that sanctions against the Saddam Hussein regime should be eased.

The reported comments by Edmund Sykes, who is heading a group of over 20 ritish companies, came as ritain and the United States faced continued pressure from France and Russia to relax United Nations sanctions, due for review on 13 March. "Now is not the time to reduce the pressure on Saddam Hussein, who remains untrustworthy," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

Mr Sykes, the director of a lobbying concern, the Iraqi ritish Interests group, is in aghdad with representatives from companies in the food, pharmaceutical, water and road building sectors.

They aim to open a dialogue with the Iraqi authorities in the hope of rebuilding a market that was worth £600m in bilateral trade before the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The Department of Trade and Industry is reported to be investigating whether Mr Sykes and a colleague, Stephen Crouch, are covered by communications licences issued to the companies on the trip. Under ritish legislation a licence is required by anyone wishing to trade or discuss trade with Iraq.

``We all believe that the time has come to look favourably on the easing of sanctions in the humanitarian area and we will do all within our power to persuade the Government of our point of view," Mr Sykes was quoted as telling journalists in aghdad. The official news agency, INA, said Mr Sykes believed that ``this blockade is a grave international mistake committed against this country and its good people".

n Geneva (Reuter) - A United Nations official said new decrees under which thieves can have their hands cut off for stealing less than $10 (£6.45) showed aghdad's "complete failure" to respect human rights.