At the end of the year 2001, Iraq asked the United Nations to lift sanctions imposed after the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. It felt that the requirements of the sanctions resolutions, including accounting for its "weapons of mass destruction" had been fufilled. But according to the UN, that is not the case. The UN demands that Iraq should allow entry of monitors to ensure that the country is free of prohibited weapons. Iraq is refusing to do so unless there is a commitment that this would lead to the lifting of sanctions.

The United States and Britain have discussed so-called "smart sanctions" on Iraq. But Iraq says the time has come for sanctions to be lifted completely, rather than changed, and is threatening to stop its oil exports over the issue. "Smart sanctions" would definitely not be enough to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
Despite the sanctions and lack of diplomatic ties between Iraq and the United States, the U.S. is still the biggest buyer of Iraqi crude oil under the UN approved oil-for-food programme. If Iraq stopped co-operating with the oil-for-food programme, new imports of food and medicine would also stop, and the Iraqi population would be in greater despair.

One of the biggest problems with sanctions now is that a huge range of equipment needed for water supply such as water pumps, sanitation and the oil industry, is routinely blocked at the Sanctions Committee by the U.S. and Britain because of fears that they could be used for military purposes. Iraq says the "smart sanctions" might streamline the approvals procedure to import goods but would not prevent the holds on items it needs to rebuild its infrastructure. The U.S and other backers of the new proposals disagree and say the latest proposals address that concern by making approval for many of the items that now have to go through the Sanctions Committee automatic.

Control System

A senior United Nations official has expressed grave concern about a dramatic increase in the number of holds that have been put on contracts requested by Iraq as part of the UN's Oil for Food Programme. Under the programme the UN controls the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales and approves the purchase of supplies for humanitarian and industrial use. UN Security Council members are however in a position to block the provision of these supplies.

The Oil for Food Programme in Iraq has been up and running for almost six years now. It was conceived as a way of managing Iraq's vast oil resources and preventing revenue from them being used to rebuild the country's offensive weapons capacity. But in the past few months the system has been buckling under the strain of a huge increase in the number of blocks placed on contracts requested by the Iraqi Government. UN Security Council members can choose to block Iraqi requests to import certain goods if they are unsatisfied about how they might be used. This often happens in the case of what are called "dual-use items", things like pipes or computer technology which can be employed for both civilian or military purposes.

Is the US serious about the removal of Saddam?

The second phase of the war against terrorism is already underway in Washington. With the spat of deals with Iraq coming on top of the very public rowing over US funding for the Iraqi National Congress, the Bush administration is sending clear signals that its preferred alternative to Saddam is a look-alike military dictator. Bushmen and their allies have explored and have become fearful of any democratic alternative in Iraq.

U.S. President George W. Bush said : "Afghanistan is only the beginning. If anybody harbors a terrorist, he is a terrorist. If they fund a terrorist, they are terrorists. If they house terrorists, they are terrorists. If they develop weapons of mass destruction that would be used to terrorize nations, they would be held accountable. As for Mr. Saddam Hussein, he needs to let inspectors back in his country to show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction."

Until US President George W. Bush decides how Washington is going to deal with Baghdad, various opinions will continue to be heard through official political forums, think tanks and the media. Bush's enthusiasm for using military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein seems to be waning.