the United Nations unanimously approved a resolution last night to restart the oil-for-food programme, which was providing food for more than half of Iraq's population before the war started. It should mean that billions of dollars are released for aid.
The Security Council approved transferring full control of the programme to Kofi Annan, the secretary general, for an initial period of 45 days.
The programme, launched in 1996, allowed Iraq to use funds from oil exports to import food, medicine and an array of civilian goods. It has provided food rations to about a third of all Iraqis.
Gunter Pleuger, the German ambassador the UN, who has overseen efforts to reach agreement on the new resolution, said resuming the oil-for-food operations would amount to "the biggest humanitarian programme in the history of the United Nations". Already ordered by Iraq and in the pipeline for delivery are goods worth almost $10bn (£6.35bn), of which about $2.4bn is earmarked for food.
The scale of the programme, and the amount of money involved, means that it will easily overshadow parallel commitments made by the United States and Britain. At the same time yesterday, the UN launched a $2.1bn aid appeal to assist the Iraqi population with a variety of other emergency needs, including dealing with refugees.
UN officials said they may soon be faced with about 350,000 refugees in need of tents and additional food.
Under the old oil-for-food arrangements, the cash from oil sales was placed in a UN-controlled deposit account. However, it was up to the Iraqi government to identify its needs and sign the contracts with foreign suppliers. The new resolution shifts that responsibility from Baghdad to Mr Annan and his officials.
Passage of the resolution was snared for days once the Allies went to war without new authorisation from the UN. France, Russia and Syria wanted to ensure that its provisions in no way conferred some kind of after-the-fact legitimacy on the invasion.
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