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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 March, 2003, 12:15 GMT
Coalition accused over aid to Iraq
Kofi Annan
The UN has come under fire for failing to deliver food to Iraq
Iraq has accused the UK and the US of stopping food and medical supplies from reaching the country and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of failing to stand up for Iraqi civilians.

At a news conference in Baghdad, the Iraqi Trade Minister, Muhammad Mahdi Saleh, said Iraq had already paid billions of dollars for these supplies, which were bought under the UN's oil-for-food programme.

The UN suspended the programme upon which millions of Iraqis depend for food as a US-led war against Baghdad became imminent last week.

Mr Mahdi Saleh said London and Washington had pushed for the programme to be blocked and accused Mr Annan of bowing to their will.

We denounce this immoral and inhuman behaviour by the United States and Britain to block the oil-for-food programme
Iraqi Trade Minister Muhammad Mahdi Saleh

The minister said most of the food and medicine ships and lorries were either at sea or at Iraq's borders when they were blocked from entering as a result of Mr Annan's decision.

He called on the UN to facilitate the entry of food and medicine into Iraq immediately.

For his part, Mr Annan has said he is working with the UN Security Council to ensure that aid delivered to the Iraqi people through the oil-for-food programme is resumed as soon as possible.

'Interim arrangement'

Mr Annan has also dismissed earlier allegations by Iraqi officials that he has been complicit in the US-led invasion, which did not have the backing of the UN Security Council.

They have accused him of failing to do enough to condemn it.

There has also been sharp criticism of his decision to withdraw UN humanitarian workers and inspectors ahead of the start of military action last week.

Iraqi officials have been angered by moves to hand over full control of the oil-for-food programme to Mr Annan who would then be put in charge of deciding how the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales could be used to purchase humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people.

Mr Annan has made clear that this would only be an interim arrangement that would be adjusted as soon as it becomes clear which authority ultimately is in control of Iraq.

The UN allows Iraq to sell oil to raise money for food, medicine and other humanitarian purposes, under economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations after Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

US contracts

There has been much controversy over the respective roles of the UN and the US in providing humanitarian aid to Iraq, both during and after the conflict.

On Tuesday, the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, announced it had awarded a Seattle-based company the contract to operate the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

USAID said the company - Stevedoring Services of America - would be in charge of managing the delivery of humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials to Iraq.

This is the second of eight civilian contracts that USAID expects to award for the reconstruction of Iraq.

The process has been criticised by some because of apparent secrecy and because no non-US companies were invited to tender.

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