AMID GROWING INTERNATIONAL concern about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, Baghdad reiterated its rejection of the UN Security Council's new weapons inspection organization, the United Nations Monitoring, Inspection and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC), which was created last December under Resolution 1284. On February 10, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan declared, "The so-called inspection teams would not be allowed to return to Iraq because we rejected spies entering under such cover," according to the official Iraqi News Agency.
The statement was made during the visit of Russian envoy Nikolai Kartuzov, former ambassador to Iraq, who reportedly attempted to persuade Iraq to accept the Security Council mandate. Russia, Iraq's strongest ally on the Security Council, had previously stated that its abstention from voting on Resolution 1284 relieved it of the obligation to ensure its full implementation.
In a flurry of interviews over the next few days, Nizar Hamdoon, undersecretary of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, was slightly more conciliatory than Ramadan. "Compromise will only be done when the council itself gets engaged with Iraq in a discussion," Hamdoon told the CNN on February 11.
UN officials did not appear concerned by the Iraqi statements, noting that Hans Blix, the newly appointed executive chairman of UNMOVIC, has yet to begin work. "There isn't an inspection mechanism up and functioning at the moment, knocking on the door, asking to go into Iraq," said John Mills, associate spokesman for the office of the UN secretary-general. Once Blix assumes his post on March 1, he will have 45 days to submit an organizational plan for UNMOVIC to the secretary-general and the Security Council.
Sanctions Regime Targeted
The profile of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq was raised this month when two high-level UN officials in charge of administering the humanitarian program in Iraq resigned. Hans von Sponeck, UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, and Jutta Burghardt, Iraq representative for the World Food Program, both announced their resignations in mid-February, complaining that improving the lives of Iraqis was impossible under the continuing sanctions regime. Von Sponeck also announced his intention to submit a report detailing the impact of the continuing U.S.-British bombing operations on the Iraqi people. A February 1999 report on the same subject brought harsh criticism from the United States, which accused von Sponeck of blindly accepting Iraqi statistics.
In the United States, 70 congressmen sent a letter to President Clinton on February 1 urging him to "de-link" military and economic sanctions on Iraq, noting that they have "failed to remove Saddam Hussein from power or even ensured his compliance with his international obligations, while the economy and people of Iraq continue to suffer." State Department spokesman James Rubin dismissed the suggestion that the sanctions were to blame. "They should direct their concern and their blame-casting at the Iraqi regime, which refuses day after day, time after time, to spend its hard currency helping its own people," he said.
The United States also dismissed suggestions, reported in The Washington Post on February 25, that the growing international attention and domestic pressure was pushing the administration to reconsider its hard line on dual-use imports. In its role on the UN sanctions committee, which reviews and may refuse Iraqi import requests, the United States has often denied Iraq's applications for dual-use items. "We are working constantly on using the oil-for-food program to provide humanitarian relief…. We will not clear what we view as dangerous dual-use products to Iraq. That policy has not changed; that policy is not under review, as is our sanctions policy not under review," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.