Iraqi Oil Revenues Freed to Buy Aid

UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to free billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues to purchase food and medicine for Iraq's people who face a possible humanitarian crisis in the war.

After a week of acrimonious negotiations, the council approved a resolution by 15-0 to give UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan control of humanitarian goods in the oil-for-food program over the next 45 days. Some 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people depend on the program for food.

Germany, also opposed to the war, helped forge a compromise as the chief negotiator for the resolution, although the talks showed that bitterness over the war could hamper U.S. efforts to rally support in rebuilding Iraq.

"This was a good day for the United Nations, a good day for the Security Council and I hope a good day for the suffering people of Iraq," said Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger.

The program, which began in December 1996, allows Iraq to sell oil to purchase food, medicine and a host of civilian supplies under UN supervision. It was suspended by Annan, who evacuated more than 300 relief workers before U.S. and British forces invaded Iraq.

The resolution would authorize Annan, for the next 45 days, to make "technological and temporary adjustments" to the program, such as reviewing Iraq's contracts to make sure health supplies and foodstuffs had priority.

Annan, the United States and Britain had asked the council to ensure that nearly $10 billion in goods Iraq ordered and already approved, including $2.4 billion for food, can enter the country when conditions allow.

But it does not deal with Iraq's oil exports and the future of its lucrative oil industry, which U.S. officials want to use for reconstruction and other Iraqi civilian needs.

France and Russia, among others, want to head off the creation of a postwar Iraqi oil ministry allied with the United States that might tear up current French and Russian contracts for development of Iraq's vast oil reserves, diplomats said.

Iraq's UN ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, said the vote put the cart before the horse by talking about humanitarian needs before peace.

"This vote makes no sense because first the question of peace and security in the area must be addressed," he said. "There is a war going on. First the issue of peace, then humanitarian."

The program is by far the largest in relief goods available to Iraq, including contributions from the United States and Britain. It was instituted to ease the impact of UN sanctions, imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

In addition to this program, the United Nations launched a $2.2 billion appeal Friday to cover other emergency needs, such as immediate foodstuffs that would be delivered more quickly than under the oil-for-food program.

But the council's resolution makes clear that the chief responsibility for addressing humanitarian consequences of the war would fall to the United States and Britain if they take control of the country. It refers to the 1949 Fourth Geneva convention on the responsibilities of the "occupying power."