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Why Iraq rejects 'smart' sanctions

While the talking continues, the people of Iraq continue to suffer  

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- As the United States and Britain try to introduce so-called "smart sanctions" on Iraq, CNN's Jane Arraf, who is in the Iraqi capital, explains why Baghdad is in no mood to compromise, and what consequences that could have.

Iraq says the time has come for sanctions to be lifted completely, rather than changed, and is threatening to stop its oil exports over the issue.

After Saudi Arabia, Iraq has the second biggest oil reserves in the world and provides three percent of world oil supplies. That does not sound like a lot, but it is enough to at least temporarily affect the price of oil.

Despite the sanctions and lack of diplomatic ties between Iraq and the United States, the U.S. is still the biggest buyer of Iraqi crude oil under the U.N.-approved oil-for-food programme.

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If Iraq stopped co-operating with the oil-for-food programme, new imports of food and medicine under the programme would also stop, but humanitarian officials say there is enough of a backlog of orders under previous phases of the programme that it would not have an impact on food stocks in Iraq for several months.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein says Iraq has fulfilled all the requirments of the sanctions resolutions including accounting for its weapons of mass destruction. According to the U.N., that is not the case.

The original U.N. special commission set up to disarm Iraq -- UNSCOM -- spent seven years in Iraq trying to piece together how many weapons Iraq had and what happened to them.

When they withdrew in December 1998, most of the weapons had been accounted for but according to UNSCOM there were still key pieces of information missing, particularly about Iraq's biological weapons programme.

Some members of the security council argue that the file could never be 100 percent closed and that they should agree with Iraq on a way to lift sanctions.

UNSCOM withdrew in 1998 just hours before the United States and Britian launched a major bombing in Baghdad.

oil pipes
Iraq is threatening to stop its oil exports  

The Iraqi Government said at the time that the attack killed all chances of the inspectors returning. Iraq, particularly after revelations from one of the chief U.N. weapons inspectors that UNSCOM was consulting with Israeli intelligence, also believed the inspectors were spies, rather than an independent U.N. body.

The U.N. has drafted a new proposal that would allow for less intrusive long-term monitoring to make sure Iraq is not rebuilding its banned weapons programmes.

Before Iraq agrees to that, it wants something substantial in return. It says it is not in its interest to allow weapons inspections or monitoring to resume while it is still under sanctions without a clear commitment that sanctions will be lifted.

Iraq has objected to the latest proposals at the U.N. because it had said they would not improve the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

One of the biggest problems with sanctions now is that a huge range of equipment needed for water, sanitation and the oil industry, is routinely blocked at the sanctions committee by the U.S. and Britian because of fears that they could be used for military purposes.

These are items as basic as water pumps.

Iraq says the new proposals might streamline the approvals procedure to import goods but would not prevent the holds on items it needs to rebuild its infrastructure.

The U.S. and other backers of the new proposals disagree and say the latest proposals address that concern by making approval for many of the items that now have to go through the sanctions committee automatic.

Spotlight on water supplies

International humanitarian workers say the biggest problem in Iraq right now is not a lack of food or even medicine -- it is a lack of clean water, and that is because the infrastructure is not being repaired. And it can't be fully repaired withoug major imports of equipment.

UNICEF says the biggest single reason that children are still dying at an abnormally high rate here appears to be that many communities do not have access to clean water.

The other reason Iraq is opposed to "smart sanctions" is that they would actually tighten controls on Iraq's economy.

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The main reason that Iraq has been able to weather sanctions as well as it has is that it set up quite an efficient system of oil sales outside the U.N.-approved programme.

The U.S. calls this smuggling. Iraq and its neighbours consider it a legitimate eroding of sanctions that should not be in place anyway.

Some of the countries it is selling the oil to, such as Turkey, are also U.S. allies who say they could not survive without the illicit oil sales.

Although the U.S. has talked about compensating countries for the losses incurred in tightening their borders, Turkey and other countries believe it would be impossible to do so.

Syria, which has recently reactivated a dormant pipline to Iraq, is the newest major customer for illicit Iraqi oil.

Tightening the borders is also a logistical problem since Iraq borders five other countries and goods are flowing from most of them - everything from cars to computers to big-screen TVs.

While not many Iraqis can afford these things, the increased trade means that there is more cash in the economy which helps keep prices stable for goods they can afford.

On the political side, while Iraq's neighbours get economic benefits from what some Western countries see as busting sanctions, it is also a public relations issue.

No matter what other leaders think of the Iraqi president, most Arab and Muslim countries think Iraqis have suffered more than enough and are paying the price of 10 years of sanctions while the Iraqi leadership thrives.

The latest U.N. proposals are aimed at just that -- easing controls on humanitarian goods while tightening controls on the leadership -- but many people in the region remain unconvinced.


• The U.N. Iraq Programme
• Iraq's permanent mission to the U.N.

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