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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 00:06 GMT
UN concern at blocked Iraq deals
Iraqi oil field
The programme controls the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales
By the BBC's Greg Barrow at the United Nations

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.

In the past few months the system has been buckling under the strain

UN Security Council members are however in a position to block the provision of these supplies.

The executive director of the UN's Iraq programme, Benon Sevan, said there had recently been an unprecedented surge in the number of blocked contracts amounting to more than $5bn.

Mr Sevan is due to visit Baghdad to review the situation next week.

Control system

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.

Increase in requests

The number of contracts now being blocked amounts to almost $5bn worth of goods. More than 80% of this has been blocked by the United States.

Western diplomats say one explanation for this sudden rise in blocked contracts is an increase in the scale and number of Iraqi requests.

They say that in the past year Iraq has asked for supplies to help rehabilitate water sanitation and electricity generating plants.

The US has requested more detailed information about exactly what these supplies will be used for and this has delayed the process of allowing the contracts to be completed.

See also:

11 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iraq restarts oil exports
03 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iraq escapes 'smart sanctions'
03 Jul 01 | Middle East
UN delays Iraq sanctions plan
02 Jul 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Iraq wins sanctions battle
29 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iraq outburst over UN sanctions
05 Jun 01 | Middle East
UN debates Iraq sanctions
27 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell's new plans for Iraq
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