Thursday, March 27, 2003

All right. Back to the oil thing. Let's see how fights over the stuff are connected to relief efforts: "War Fails to Halt Iraqi Oil Production, but Prompts a Debate About the Future," page B15, again yesterday's NY Times (last one, I promise).

Guess what? ". . . a dispute in the United Nations Security Council . . . could be the beginning of a protracted fight over the future of Iraq's oil wealth, diplomats and oil industry experts say.

"On one side are the United States and Great Britain; on the other are Russia and Syria. The debate focuses on the seven-year-old oil-for-food program, under which the United Nations established Iraq's oil export quota and authorized that the oil revenues be used for relief. The debate stems from suspicions that resolution drafted by Secretary General Kofi Annan, reauthorizing the program, might be a backdoor way of legitimizing the war and bypassing the existing Iraqi government. It could also lead to the cancellation of billions of dollars in existing contracts, as contracts for food and medicine are given priority over those for other goods on the way to Iraq from places like Russia.

[skipping down two grafs] "Yesterday [March 25] the administration pushed a demand that revenues from the oil-for-food program be made available to the United States to buy supplies for Iraq.

"Andrew S. Natsios, the director of the United States Agency for International Development, said the administration needed the United Nations Security Council to 'make a decision in the next few days' that would give the United States access to as much as $8 billion held in a United Nations escrow account. Security Council ambassadors are scheduled to consult on the oil-for-food issue today.

[skipping down six grafs] "The anger over oil-for-food boiled over in an experts' meeting Monday, when the United States representative, Andrew Hillman, complained to his Russian counterpart that the Russian arguments were delaying aid shipments to suffering people.

"The Russian, Sergey Khazilov, shot back that the suffering was being caused by American bombs, said a diplomat who was present. A spokesman for the United States mission denied that the exchange took place.

"For the United States and Britain, the legal objections being made by Russia and Syria mean a frustrating delay in reauthorizing a program which, even before the war, provided for the basic needs of about 60 percent of the Iraqi population of 24 million people.

"But for Russia and Syria, both members of the Security Council, legal issues involved are just as crucial. The draft resolution allows for the secretary general's representatives to do their relief work 'in coordination with the relevant authorities,' a phrase that seems to anticipate the fall of the current government.

"Mr. Lavrov [Russia's ambassador to the U.N.] said, 'The legal consequences and political consequences' of a resolution could be to circumvent international law, which requires 'occupying belligerents' to make reparations for the damages caused in the conflict.

"To use funds generated by Iraqi oil for relief after an American-led war, the Russians and Syrians say, is equivalent to making Iraqis pay for their own aid.

"But one Security Council diplomat argued that the Russians failed to see the point: 'It does seem that they don't feel any particular urgency about taking measures that would improve the situation.'" End of story.

So at this point, the relief money is being held hostage, as it were, to the competing economic interests of the U.S. and Britain on one side, and Russia and Syria on the other. Now *that's* a SNAFU.