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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
UN relaxes Iraq sanctions
Iraqi oil workers
The UN will still control Iraq's oil revenues
The United Nations Security Council has approved an overhaul of sanctions against Iraq to release more humanitarian aid.

The council's 15 members voted unanimously in favour of the changes, the most important since 1996.

This is a new harassment on the Iraqi people

Mohammed Aldouri
Iraq's ambassador to the UN
The new scheme is designed to make it easier for Iraq to import goods for civilian use, while tightening the military embargo.

The revised "oil for food" programme has been extended for six months.

The vote was postponed from Monday at the request of Syria, which tried unsuccessfully to make last-minute amendments.

The White House described the new scheme as "a step forward for the Iraqi people", but said it was now up to Baghdad to improve its citizens' lives.

"Iraq's Government has an opportunity to prove that it seeks the same benefits for all its citizens," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Iraq has not yet said whether it will work with the new scheme, but has said it is unhappy with any resolution that does not lift the sanctions.

Correspondents say the new scheme could improve life for millions of Iraqis who have been hit by more than a decade of economic sanctions.

Dual use items

Under the new scheme, the UN will still control Iraq's oil revenues, but only goods with potential military uses will face much UN scrutiny before being sent to Iraq.

Iraqis queue for food outside a mosque
Iraqis have been hard hit by nearly 12 years of sanctions
Until now, with the exception of food and medicine, almost everything has been scrutinised by the council's sanctions committee, and the US and the UK have blocked more than $5bn worth of contracts.

The new plan includes a 300-page "goods review list" which details items with possible military or "dual use", such as telecommunications and information technology equipment. These have to be evaluated separately.

But contracts for goods not on the list are likely to be approved automatically.

Baghdad says sanctions should be lifted completely.

"This is a new harassment on the Iraqi people," Iraq's UN ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, said.

He added that the new scheme will "prevent any development of the Iraqi economy".

US-UK 'victory'

Sanctions against Iraq were imposed in August 1990 after its troops invaded Kuwait.

Under a UN resolution, the embargo cannot be lifted until weapons inspectors certify that Baghdad's chemical, biological and nuclear arms programmes have been dismantled.

But inspectors have not been allowed to return to Iraq since they withdrew in December 1998.

The BBC's Rob Watson in Washington says the new scheme represents a victory in the propaganda war for the US and Britain.

They can now argue that sanctions are not directed at the Iraqi people, but only at their government and its alleged efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The BBC's Greg Barrow
"This has come after months of negotiations"
Charles Duelfer, Former Deputy Chairman, UNSCOM
"Its a success in keeping constraints on Iraq"
See also:

24 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq's middle class wiped out
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