images OTN explores Iraq under sanctions: US & Britain have delayed supplies

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3. The US and Britain have delayed and blocked some oil-for-food supplies.

Every contract made under the oil for food programme has to be approved by a Sanctions Committee with representatives of all 15 members of the UN Security Council. Phase I of the programme was supposed to run from December 1996 to June 1997 but UN figures show that the Committee is still blocking or delaying approval of 49 out of 879 contracts submitted to it. The classic case was a consignment of ambulances held up for months because they might have a 'dual use' as military vehicles.

I can't work out whether the delays are caused by bureaucracy or conspiracy. The Iraqis say it's a conspiracy, that the US and Britain have used their influence to delay supplies on purpose. But they would say that, wouldn't they.

I was more taken aback to hear a Western diplomat passionately taking the same line. He'd be fired if I told you who he was, which makes it harder for you to assess what he's saying than me. He said:
"The Iraqis play it up a little too much sometimes but it is a fact. If anyone is wrong, then it is two countries who have shamelessly blocked contracts. It has been disgusting to watch."

A third-world diplomat was more inclined to blame bureaucracy and a desire by big countries to make sure supply contracts went to their companies.
"I would blame it on the mindset of the bureaucracy rather than on politics," he said.

Either way, there's no doubt that the biggest delays have been, firstly, in obtaining approvals of contracts from the Sanctions Committee and, secondly, in shipping supplies to Iraq. UN figures show that on average, contracts under Phase 1 of the oil-for-food programme took 125 days to receive approval from the Sanctions Committee and to be shipped to Iraq. Actual distribution once the goods arrived in Iraq took on average just 7 days.

It's bad enough that Iraqi children are dying because the oil-for-food programme has been running behind schedule. If the United States and Britain have deliberately been delaying and disrupting the programme to try to undermine Saddam Hussein, it's downright wrong.
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