Security Council Moves Closer to Adopting Iraqi 'Smart Sanctions'

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THE UN SECURITY Council took a step closer to implementing a "smart sanctions" regime in Iraq on November 29 by unanimously agreeing to adopt a once-contentious Goods Review List, which aims to streamline the process of selling civilian goods to Baghdad.

Approved as part of a resolution that renewed the UN oil-for-food program for the eleventh time since 1996, the list contains weapons-related and dual-use items that would require UN approval before being exported to Iraq. The new resolution states that the Security Council intends to adopt the Goods Review List-"subject to any refinements"-for implementation on May 30, when the current phase of the oil-for-food program expires. The list can only be modified with the Security Council's approval.

Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Mohammed Aldouri signed a memorandum of understanding December 2, accepting the resolution.

Once the list is adopted, Baghdad will be allowed to import-without UN oversight-any civilian, nonweapons, or dual-use items not specifically enumerated on the list. Contracts containing items on the list would need the UN Iraq Sanctions Committee's approval before export. Proceeds from Iraqi oil sales held in a UN-controlled escrow account would pay for the items.

Under the current regime, all of Baghdad's nonhumanitarian purchases are subject to UN review. But the arrangement allows Iraq to sell unlimited amounts of oil on the international market, with the proceeds placed in a UN account. The only legal way for Iraq to sell oil is through the oil-for-food program.

By facilitating the flow of civilian goods to Iraq, the "smart sanctions" proposals envisioned by the Bush administration aim to undermine arguments that sanctions are hurting the Iraqi people. It also seeks to tighten the existing sanctions regime to prevent Iraq from using smuggled oil revenues to develop weapons systems.

The planned adoption of the Goods Review List addresses the first point. However, the resolution does not take up the issues of strengthening border controls or cracking down on Iraq's illegal oil-smuggling relationships with Jordan, Turkey, and Syria. The UN currently tolerates Baghdad's oil sales to these states, which are conducted outside of the oil-for-food program, because of their importance to these nations' economies. Iraq can use the revenues from these unaccountable oil sales for weapons purchases because these transactions lack the UN oversight.

A number of proposals for bringing these relationships under UN auspices were included in a draft June resolution put forth by the United Kingdom and backed by the United States, but they were subsequently scuttled by Russian opposition. (See ACT, July/August 2001.) Implementation of such proposals, however, would be difficult because they require Iraq's neighbors to abandon extremely profitable transactions voluntarily. …