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Robertson: Boosting Iraqi reconstruction

CNN's Nic Robertson
CNN's Nic Robertson

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The United Nations Security Council Thursday voted to end nearly all sanctions against Iraq, 13 years and two wars after they were imposed. The U.S.-backed resolution passed 14-0, with Syria's ambassador absent.

The measure also gives the United States and Britain -- part of coalitions in both wars against Iraq -- broad powers to sell Iraqi oil to fund reconstruction, and the authority to run Iraq until a new government is established.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has spent a lot of time in Iraq and discussed with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer how the resolution will help win the peace in Iraq.

ROBERTSON: It should speed the reconstruction. One of the issues that many people in Iraq complained about over the years was the fact that they couldn't import the water pumps necessary to rebuild the sewage and fresh water systems in Baghdad and other cities. This will be a prime example of where lifting restrictions -- Iraq can sell the oil or the oil can be sold for Iraq -- allows this equipment to be more freely, and readily and quickly brought into the country, and it's turning things around quickly.

It's going to make that necessary difference for Iraqi people's lives. It's going to make them believe that the new U.S. civil administration and the coalition are there to help, and that's very important right now.

BLITZER: The impact should be pretty quick. The U.S. and Britain will have discretion how to release the billions of dollars already frozen in various Iraqi assets to various institutions within Iraq, and the flow of oil, the export, should get going relatively quickly.

ROBERTSON: Relatively quickly indeed. There are several millions of barrels of oil sitting in Turkey, ready for sale right now, just to give you some context. The oil-for-food program ran since late 1996. Under that program, Iraq exported about 3.5 billion barrels of oil. The revenue they generated from that was something in the order of $60 billion. They spent $11 billion over those six or seven years on food. They spent about half a billion dollars on the education inside Iraq.

So it's big numbers, but that is the kind of money that's going to be necessary to help regenerate the country. The sale of oil is really the only resource that the international community has to quickly generate money to rebuild Iraq. Getting that money flowing with those quick sales, like the sale of the oil that's already there in storage in Turkey, that's going to help a lot.

BLITZER: Nic, you spent a long time in Iraq. The people are pretty well-educated. There's a good middle class. They are capable of taking these billions of dollars in oil revenue and developing a thriving economy if they do it right. That's why this decision at the Security Council today is potentially so significant.

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. It's a country that knows how to work. It's a country that has worked before, back in the 1970s when the oil industry was nationalized, when the revenues started flowing into the Iraqi pocket and less to the international companies running many of the oil facilities at that time. The purse inside Iraq, the government's purse swelled measurably, when they went into the Iran/Iraq war in the beginning of the 1980s; they had a lot of money. There was huge spending on civil infrastructure, on ministries, on hospitals, on schools, etc.

To get that same money flowing again -- without the expenditures of Saddam Hussein's war with Iran, and without the U.N. sanctions -- Iraq and its people know very well how to run a very efficient and a very productive country.

BLITZER: And the fact that not only the United States and Britain, but France, Germany, Russia, the other members of the Security Council -- with the exception of Syria -- approved the resolution, that sends a powerful message to the people of Iraq that the international community now is basically united and wants to see the U.S., Britain and its coalition partners succeed.

ROBERTSON: Yes, that international legitimacy. The key is going to be transferring that impression that we have around the rest of the world to the people in Iraq and in Baghdad. It is going to be their understanding of the situation that obviously motivates them. And while we understand it, as an international legitimization of the new rules and regulations that will govern Iraq internationally, the people of Baghdad also have to understand that, and it's going to be very important to get that message out to the Iraqi people, and that is not so easily done. Iraq is a country this time that thrives very much on rumors and a lack of good, hard information.

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