Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq


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Guide to Sanctions

[Guide contents & introduction]

5. Isn't Security Council Resolution 1284 the solution?

On 17 December 1999, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1284 ("SCR 1284"). This resolution was the product of a year-long tussle between the Permanent Five members of the Council (Britain, the US, France, Russia and China) over the direction of future policy towards Iraq. Russia, France, China and Malaysia abstained from voting in the Security Council on this resolution. As had been anticipated, Iraq immediately rejected the resolution: it had already announced that it would not implement any Security Council Resolution that did not immediately lift the sanctions.

The British government has often pointed to SCR 1284 as an example of its "commitment to helping the Iraqi people". SCR 1284's humanitarian measures fall into two categories: improvements to the existing sanctions regime and the possibility of the suspension of sanctions.

The first set of measures are a partial response to the recommendations of the Security Council's 1999 Humanitarian Panel report, which estimated that adoption of its recommendations "may lead to incremental improvements". Thus, SCR 1284 removed the "cap" on Iraqi oil sales, and established a "green list" of humanitarian items that could be imported into Iraq without prior Security Council approval. SCR 1284 also gave an indication that the UN would seek to establish mechanisms to allow spare parts for the oil industry to be more easily purchased by Iraq. A list of "spare parts" was prepared in July 2000, but the approval of the list was held up by one of the members of the Sanctions Committee, widely presumed to be the US, until it was finally approved on 1 December. The importance of investment in the Iraqi oil industry was stressed in a June 2001 report prepared for the Secretary-General:

"The team of experts reiterated the views expressed in previous reports by expert missions that the oil industry in Iraq continues to face significant technical and infrastructural problems, which unless addressed will inevitably result in the reduction of crude oil production from the current levels."

SCR 1284 also provides for revenue from oil sales to be received in part as currency: the Humanitarian Panel had noted that the absence of such a "cash component" in parts of Iraq controlled by the Iraqi Government was "seriously impeding the distribution of some humanitarian supplies", as cash was required to pay for labour and local materials. However, three years on Iraq and the Security Council have not agreed on mutually acceptable terms and the 'cash component' has still not been implemented.

The second set of measures in SCR 1284 holds out the prospect of a "suspension" of sanctions and possible foreign investment in Iraq's oil sector. The resolution says that the "fundamental objective" of the suspension is "improving the humanitarian situation in Iraq"; it therefore admits that there is a causal link between the sanctions and Iraq's humanitarian crisis. A suspension will occur, according to the resolution, if and when the Iraqi Government is found to have "co-operated in all respects" for a continuous period of 120 days with a new arms inspection body (Unmovic) and with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The meaning of this requirement was kept deliberately vague by Britain. The sanctions will be suspended "subject to the elaboration of effective financial and other operational measures", also left undefined. However, sanctions can be re-imposed upon the word of Unmovic's Executive Chairman or the IAEA's Director-General. This will occur within five working days unless the Security Council objects.

The Government of Iraq is therefore being asked to subscribe to a two-fold uncertainty: to co-operate, in a poorly defined sense, in order to achieve an undefined suspension of sanctions. As the Government of Iraq has good cause to suspect the intentions of the US and the UK (the former has repeatedly announced that the sanctions are linked to the present regime, not to weapons; both are currently bombing it) it is obvious why it may be reluctant to implement SCR 1284.

These suspicions can only have been confirmed by the new administration in the US, whose Secretary of State Colin Powell, said on 8 March 2001:

"If the inspectors get in, do their job, we're satisfied with their first look at things, maybe we can suspend the sanctions. And then at some point way in the future, when we're absolutely satisfied there are no such weapons around, then maybe we can consider lifting." (emphasis added)

Not only may the resolution's uncertainty decrease Iraq's perceived payoffs for implementing SCR 1284, but it may also actually send a signal that SCR 1284 cannot be trusted. The Government of Iraq may wonder, for example, why the form of sanctions' suspension has been left unclear, given that the French government presented detailed proposals for these measures in August; Russia and China had also called for more clarity in determining what exactly Iraq needed to do for the suspension of sanctions.

Given the Security Council's ability to re-impose rapidly the sanctions, the motive behind the 120 day co-operation period is unclear. The waiting period imposes further humanitarian costs on the Iraqi people and does not clearly enhance security, as the proposed suspensions would not apply to military or 'dual-use' equipment. Diplomatic sources tell us that Washington's concerns did not relate to security, but to its reputation. In return, the Security Council has lost an instrument whereby it could have signalled trustworthiness to the Government of Iraq.

No progress was made in implementing SCR 1284 until September 2002 when, amidst US led threats of military action, Iraq offered to allow the return of weapons inspectors. This offer was not initially taken up, but following the passing of SCR 1441 in November 2002, which revised Unmovic's mandate and afforded Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations", weapons inspectors returned to Iraq.

From a humanitarian point of view, SCR 1284 continues in the direction set out by SCR 661 (1990) and SCR 687 (1991): the well-being of ordinary Iraqis is to continue to depend on the struggle between their government and those of the US and the UK. This is a perverse strategy if one claims that the Government of Iraq does not care about popular well-being. Finally, it is a strategy that can be expected to continue to have traumatic consequences for the Iraqi people: in August 1999, Unicef estimated that an additional half million Iraqi children under five years of age have died during the sanctions period. While SCR 1284 does offer some improvements (e.g. the lifting of the sales cap) it seems more designed to appear "tough on Saddam" (in the words of a Downing Street spokesperson the day after SCR 1284 was passed). If one sought signs of improvement in British policy, it is not reassuring that official statements continue to fail to address these concerns.

In CASI's view, a good Security Council Resolution on Iraq would have de-coupled humanitarian and political issues, removing Iraqi citizens from the cross-fire between the governments of Iraq, the US and the UK. SCR 1284, while making some concessions to ordinary Iraqis, does not do this: the suspension of non-military sanctions still requires extensive, undefined and unprecedented co-operation between the Iraqi government and a re-flagged inspection team. Even the humanitarian concessions are meagre, less generous than those proposed in an earlier Anglo-Dutch draft resolution and much less generous than those sought by France, China and Russia. The refusal to adopt low risk measures such as the loans from the Compensation Fund suggest that the US and the UK will only grudgingly cease to use Iraqi citizens as pawns.

A good SCR would also have taken steps to build trust and reduce the interest of the governments in fighting. SCR 1284 does not offer olive branches. There is no explicit acknowledgement that the old weapons inspectors, in whose image the new are created, seriously compromised their mandate, and only outlines of steps to prevent this happening again. By making Iraq's requirements explicitly vague the resolution fails to assuage what must be a central concern in their government's mind: do we have any reason to trust the US, whose announced policy is not weapons inspection but our overthrow?

The road to trust could have been embarked upon by suspending the non-military sanctions once the new weapons inspectors started work, as France, China and Russia wanted. The Iraqi people would have had substantial evidence of our concern and the Iraqi regime would have had a signal of co-operation and an incentive to prevent the sanctions' re-imposition. Instead, we have given the Iraqi people further evidence that we are as willing as their leader to use them as political bargaining chips.


Further reading:

CASI's briefing of 24 December 1999:

News reports at the time of the resolution:

Two excellent briefings by Voices in the Wilderness:

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