The U.N. sanctions on Iraq, now in their tenth year, have fallen short of achieving their political goals and have caused much harm and pain to the Iraqi people. While there are many multilateral and unilateral sanctions imposed worldwide, those on Iraq have received the most attention and criticism for their severity, the way they have been applied and the means being used to sustain them. The continuation of sanctions will further damage Iraq and could have an impact on the world oil situation.
THE PURPOSE OF SANCTIONS
The original purpose of the sanctions, as specified in Security Council Resolution 661 adopted immediately after the invasion of Kuwait, was to achieve two goals: The withdrawal of Iraqi forces to their positions prior to August 2, 1990, and the return of the Kuwaiti government to power. Of course the U.N. resolution was not the only measure that the world community adopted in order to liberate Kuwait, as Desert Storm demonstrated. But it was hoped in some circles that the comprehensive sanctions would weaken the Iraqi military machinery and public morale and force the authorities to rescind their decision. While military action forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, the sanctions have not succeeded so far in changing the domestic, regional or international politics of the regime - nor are they about to do so.
The more comprehensive resolution which continues to regulate the overall relationship between the Security Council and Iraq is the cease-fire resolution, 687, of April 3, 1991. It emphasized the Security Council's determination to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) acquired during the eighties, ironically with the assistance of some of the permanent members of the Council, and to ensure that Baghdad did not rebuild them. This lengthy resolution specified the means whereby the sanctions could be lifted (article 22), provided Iraq cooperated with U.N. weapons inspectors. It also incorporated in its preamble a general statement about Iraq's peaceful intentions toward its neighbors. The United States has highlighted this non-binding statement and used it as a pretext to sustain the sanctions, since it is difficult to prove intent of this kind, one way or the other.
The approximately 50 resolutions on Iraq have not incorporated two main elements. The first is the impact of comprehensive sanctions on Iraq's civilian population. While it is true that the oil-for-food program did address this issue, the fact remains that this scheme cannot provide for the welfare of a nation of 22 million people. What the Security Council has failed to address is the impact of sanctions on the normal evolution of the Iraqi population, the erosion of literacy and education, the health problems inflicted as a result of the lack of basic medicine and medical equipment, the dispersion of the middle and professional class, the lack of electric power, water sanitation supplies, etc.
The second is the removal of the regime. This issue is not touched on by Security Council resolutions, and for good reason. It would be considered interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country, not to speak of the fact that it is impossible to muster support in Security Council for such a principle. Nonetheless, this subject is the basic determinant of U.S. policy towards Iraq. U.S. officials have stated publicly and repeatedly that the sanctions will not be removed as long as the regime of President Saddam Hussein remains in power. The other permanent members of the Security Council have preferred to ignore this point, and the majority of them work with the regime as though it were a permanent rather than a temporary feature.
WHY CONTINUE THE SANCTIONS?
Three arguments have been put forward to justify the continuation of the sanctions. The first is that the humanitarian program implemented since late 1996 will meet the basic needs of the Iraqi population. The fact of the matter is that, while the oil-for-food program may tackle some of the nutrition and medical problems, it cannot by any means, nor is it designed to, meet the rehabilitation requirements of the country after the destruction inflicted during the second Gulf war. In fact, the way the program has evolved has led to the establishment of a network of traders and middlemen who thrive on the political and financial needs of the Iraqi authorities, irrespective of Security Council resolutions.
The second is that it is the Iraqi regime that is sustaining the sanctions. It is argued that Baghdad only has to apply all the Security Council resolutions and the sanctions will be lifted. However, it is pointless to ask Baghdad to apply faithfully and comprehensively all the relevant resolutions, particularly those concerning WMD. The disarmament program has set itself a very difficult, if not impossible, task: the accreditation of all the weapons of mass destruction, all the spare parts and all related materiel, instead of carrying out a meaningful program to eliminate the country's ability to employ these weapons.
The nature of the regime in Baghdad is such that even 10 years of sanctions have not changed its political message or its authoritarian practices. There are no signs that it has learned from all the experiences of the past years. To ask with a straight face that Baghdad fulfill an almost impossible disarmament obligation before sanctions are removed is simply a convenient way of evading the real issues. The fact that the United States requires the overthrow of the regime as a condition for removing sanctions has not made things any easier.
The third is the argument that, if one disapproves of the sanctions, one must approve of their target - in this case the Iraqi regime. This kind of argument discourages meaningful debate on the issue and results in uncompromising positions. Priorities become more involved with the domestic politics and regional interests of the countries imposing the sanctions than with developments in the country being sanctioned.
HAVE THE SANCTIONS ACHIEVED THEIR PURPOSE?
The sanctions regime on Iraq is a comprehensive and integrated process. The West took the opportunity provided by the end of the Cold War and the Iraqi regime's adventurous policies to contain Baghdad's ambitions, safeguard regional security and teach a lesson to all Third World countries that might contemplate building WMD.
The world community continues to be, despite competing and conflicting interests, unanimous in its determination to force Iraq to destroy its WMD. There has not been equivocation over this issue. However, what has split the five permanent members of the Security Council is the dichotomy between demilitarizing Iraq and calling for the overthrow of the regime. The two elements of U.S. policy toward Iraq are containment and the humanitarian program. The United States contains the regime through U.N. sanctions, which deny Baghdad the financial and material resources needed to rebuild its weapons program, imposes no fly zones in the north and south (not approved by the Security Council) and maintains a credible military presence in the region. Sanctions are a critical element of containment. The United States argues that it maintains the sanctions because without them the Iraqi regime would have control over oil revenue, be able to rebuild its WMD capability, enhance its security apparatus, and threaten its neighbors again.
Washington has wanted to depose the Baghdad regime for a decade now. Having failed to do so, it has chosen the least costly alternative, one with international legitimacy. This is to contain the regime, keep it under sanctions, and perhaps deal with it more seriously after the Arab-Israeli peace process is settled and/or a full rapprochement is arrived at with Iran. It is this exploitation of the sanctions, prolonging them for lack of serious alternatives, that has created the divisions in the Security Council and the gradual erosion of their comprehensiveness and political effectiveness. However, what has become more apparent with time is that the sanctions policy is all that is left to Washington. Low-level military activity has failed, and under present circumstances, it would be very difficult to muster an international military alliance once more.
Moreover, what this picture overlooks is the fact that from 1994 to 1998 Iraq was subjected to a rigorous program of monitoring industrial and research facilities. This program provided UNSCOM with extensive knowledge of the country's present and future capabilities and its industrial infrastructure. Former UNSCOM official Scott Ritter concluded that monitoring "allowed UNSCOM to ascertain, with a high level of confidence, that Iraq was not rebuilding its prohibited weapons programs and that it lacked the means to do so without an infusion of advanced technology and a significant investment of time and money."1
In December 1999, with the passing of UNSC Resolution 1284, sanctions moved to a new plateau. While Security Council members continued to emphasize the monitoring of Iraq's military capability, they also approved the taking of gradual and non-confrontational steps to stabilize the Iraqi situation by avoiding further crises. Accordingly, the Council agreed to increase Iraq's oil exports, recognize that the current system of sanctions no longer corresponds to the reality of Iraqi needs, and indicate that a gradual lifting of the sanctions must be accepted as U.N. demands in specific areas are met.
RESOLUTION 1284: A NEW APPROACH
Three elements have characterized resolution I 284. It involves a step-by-step approach. This includes the appointment of the head of the new weapons' inspectors group (UNMOVIC); the composition and mandate of the new team; the development of the oil industry; and the control of oil revenue. This gradualist approach left the door open for both sides to give the right signals and make the necessary compromises. These steps may be procedural in nature but they go right to the heart of the matter.
Baghdad has been able to condemn the resolution but not reject it formally. The message being that it would cooperate if the resolution would actually lead to the lifting of sanctions. Three permanent members of the Security Council (Russia, France and China) sent a clear message during the deliberations on the resolution and their abstention vote that they are adopting an active policy to change the sanctions regime, despite adamant U.S. opposition.
The Security Council, after some two years of no clearly defined policy toward Iraq and almost one year of deliberations, passed resolution 1284 in December 1999. The main difference between this piece of legislation and all the other resolutions passed since August 1990 is that Iraq is promised for the first time a qualified suspension of the sanctions. The new resolution also provided for production of crude oil at capacity and without financial restrictions, fast-track approval of humanitarian supplies, and the opportunity at a later date for upstream development of the oil sector. The sanctions regime continues to prohibit the import of dual-use equipment, and it remains vague on the control of the oil revenue.
Iraq believes that Resolution 1284 reinstates the former obligations imposed on the country by Resolution 687 as if no disarmament had taken place over the past 10 years. Moreover, it believes that the resolution talks only of suspending sanctions, not lifting them, as stated in paragraph 22 of Resolution 687. Finally, Baghdad wants a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to govern its relationship with the United Nations, similar to the one drawn up for the oil-for-food program.
There are several articles that were to be implemented whether Baghdad formally approved the resolution or not. Iraq has agreed to accept the measures, despite the fact that it has not accepted the resolution. These include: The immediate lifting of the financial ceiling on oil exports, fixed previously at $5.26 billion every six months. The secretary-general was authorized to recommend an increase in the amount of funds for the purchase of spare parts and equipment for the oil industry. Mr. Annan dispatched a team of experts to Iraq in January to survey the state of the oil industry. The report was submitted in mid-March. Mr. Annan recommended, as he did earlier, that $600 million should be allotted for rehabilitation of the oil industry during a six-month period.
The Sanctions Committee will draw up lists of food, medicine and agricultural and educational goods for automatic approval. Accordingly, Baghdad needs simply to notify the U.N. Secretariat of these contracts, rather than having to go to the sanctions committee for approval. The Sanctions Committee is to draw up a list of spare parts and equipment to be approved on a fast-track basis by a specially appointed committee of experts. The sanctions committee appointed the experts in May and approved the list of projects and spare parts in mid-July. This move should enable Iraq to raise its oil production capacity from 3mb/d to around 3.4 mb/d by mid-2000. This means, in effect, that after 10 years of sanctions, Iraq has been able to achieve the same production capacity as that prevailing in 1990.
On the other hand, there are economic steps that can only be implemented when Iraq agrees to the resolution and allows UNMOVIC to start inspections. In principle, the secretary-general will appoint a committee of experts to make long-term recommendations for the Iraqi oil industry, including the development of the upstream by international oil companies (IOCs). The report has to be approved by the Security Council and its recommendations implemented only after Baghdad cooperates with UNMOVIC for a 120-day renewable period. If implemented, the Security Council will review the situation every four months to ensure Iraqi cooperation with the weapons inspectors.
IS THIS A PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENT?
The first question that comes to mind is how UNMOVIC will operate. Will it follow in the footsteps of UNSCOM by adopting a quantitative disarmament program of every single weapons component or instead undertake a qualitative disarmament program that would ascertain whether there is a meaningful elimination of the country's capability to produce or employ WMD? If it is the former, then it is practically impossible for the IOCs to operate in Iraq. The only other way to develop the country's resources would be through service contracts provided for by the oil-for-food program. However, these will in no way be able to develop the country's vast oil resources.
Even if the latter approach is adopted, it is doubtful that the IOCs would agree to enter into a legal and binding agreement to operate in Iraq, no matter how lucrative it might be. If the sanctions are to be reviewed every four months with a possibility of reinstating them, it is difficult for the IOCs to make large investments and approve extensive mobilization of manpower and materiel. This is not a practical way to run the oil industry, and the international oil firms would not accept the principle.
The Security Council will suspend the non-military and not dual-use embargo on exports and imports after 120 days of UNMOVIC work on the ground in Iraq. However, here again the suspension is renewable every 120 days subject to good behavior and continuous cooperation with UNMOVIC.
Financial control over oil revenue was not addressed by Resolution 1284. This subject proved to be a very controversial point and most probably will continue to be when the issue is discussed in earnest at some later stage.
The resolution vaguely states that "the Council will act within 12 months of the resolution, provided Iraq cooperates with UNMOVIC and the IAEA and satisfies all the required conditions." What this really means and where it will lead were deliberately left unclear.
Resolution 1284 is the forty-ninth passed by the Security Council on Iraq since August 1990. If it does not lead to a successful exit from the present deadlock, then the most probable outcome is more of the same, with one difference. There will be more leakage in the sanctions regime itself. This is already clear from the amount and variety of equipment available in the country and the rise of border oil trade. What is wrong with this situation is that it is the most expensive and the least beneficial for the welfare of the Iraqi population. The only beneficiaries are the select few who have control of this lucrative sanctions-oriented trade.
On the oil front, we could very well see more and more border trade, which now constitutes around 10 percent of production. There are already around 300,000 b/d of crude oil and petroleum product sales to Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Syria and the Gulf states. The Sanctions Committee formally approves none of them. Tomorrow, more companies and countries will get involved.
The media focus on the capture of a few smuggled boats in the Gulf hides several facts. The first is the double standards being applied to border trade. Whereas the Turkish authorities are allowed to import smuggled crude and products (over 100,000 b/d) and even levy taxes on them, and whereas Jordan can openly import Iraqi crude and petroleum products to the tune of 100,000 b/d without Security Council approval, much is made of the trade with certain Gulf states.
However, what is relevant is not the amount of oil being smuggled, but the opportunity to develop the Iraqi oil industry. The world today is approaching production capacity. Most of the non-OPEC producers are at capacity, while OPEC is producing at around 95 percent. Only a few countries, principally Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, have the capacity to produce more today. Iraq, if given the opportunity, can add more capacity from discovered but undeveloped oil fields.
The fact that Iraq is under sanctions and that there is hardly any normal communication between the world community and Baghdad has an impact on world oil markets. Today one of the two fears gripping the markets and keeping oil prices abnormally high is the eroding spare production capacity and the fear that Baghdad may decide to stop production suddenly and withdraw 3mb/d from world markets. It will be very difficult, under present supply/demand conditions, to substitute for this crude. Supplies could be met from strategic reserves, but prices would rise substantially in the meantime. Hence, if markets are going to remain tight, as a result of a buoyant world economy and dwindling supplies, then it might be advisable to deal differently with the sanctions on Iraq.
There are two fundamental reasons for the increasing support for the lifting of sanctions. First, after 10 years, it appears to be a program without clear policy objectives. It is being continued for lack of alternatives for dealing with the Baghdad regime. Those who suffer from the sanctions today are the people of Iraq and the future of the country. Second, the sanctions have led to pauperization of the population, mass emigration, breakdown of the social system and deprivation of the middle and professional classes. These are the issues uppermost in the minds of most Iraqis, irrespective of their ethnic, social or religious backgrounds and political beliefs.
1 Arms Control Today, June 2000.