Iraq Threatens to Expel UN Workers
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq intensified its confrontation with the United Nations on Sunday, saying it will reject any extension of a U.N.-monitored food program and will require the monitors to leave.
Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh did not say when Baghdad would ask the U.N. staff to depart. However, the latest phase of the U.N.-approved oil-for-food deal doesn’t expire until the end of April.
The tough talk came a day after Iraq said it would fire on U.S. and British warplanes patrolling skies over northern and southern Iraq. It also came shortly before a meeting of Arab lawmakers in Amman, Jordan, condemned recent U.S.-British airstrikes on Iraq as ``unjust aggression.″
The legislators from 16 Arab nations also called on their governments to work on the lifting of the U.N. trade embargo that has crippled the country’s economy. Kuwait did not participate in the meeting.
The oil-for-food program brings crucial supplies such as flour, lentils, rice, sugar and medicine to families struggling under U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, sparking the Persian Gulf War. Though Iraq desperately needs the goods, it long has feared the program makes it easier for the world to allow the sanctions to continue.
``Iraq refuses the continuation of this project and demands the lifting of sanctions,″ Saleh said. ``This means the ouster of U.N. teams which supervise it.″
About 400 U.N. workers monitor the oil-for-food program to ensure that the Iraqi government does not divert any of the money for aid and use it for its own purposes.
The deal began in 1996, and generally is extended every six months. The latest six month phase allows Iraq to sell $5.2 billion in oil to buy needed supplies. About 3 percent of that money is used to pay the humanitarian aid monitors, the expenses needed to administer the program and to fund the work of weapons inspectors in Iraq. Another 30 percent goes to compensate victims of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War.
``Iraq is bearing huge expenses which it pays to these (U.N.) personnel and they do nothing apart from verifying that the imports have reached Iraqi ports,″ Saleh said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.
The U.N. embargo, imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, cannot be lifted until the weapons inspectors verify that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.
The United States and Britain began four days of punishing airstrikes on Dec. 16 after the weapons inspectors released a report saying that Baghdad was blocking their work. Iraq has said it will not allow the U.N. arms monitors to resume their work.
Although Egypt participated in the Amman meeting condemning the airstrikes, a Cairo newspaper reported that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak blamed Saddam Hussein for provoking them.
Monday’s edition of Al-Gomhuriya newspaper quoted Mubarak as saying the ruling regime ``is the reason for all the problems ... and Egypt naturally does not support this regime.″
Iraqi officials also have said that anti-aircraft gunners were prepared to open fire on U.S. and British warplanes patrolling no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. ``Violating Iraqi airspace is an aggression,″ Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told APTN on Sunday.
``The so-called farce of no-fly zones must end,″ he said. ``The so-called no-fly zones only exist in the British and American imagination.″
Iraq has never recognized the zones and occasionally has confronted aircraft flying in the areas.
The United States and Britain have said they will continue to enforce the zones, and National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington that U.S. pilots can ``act in self-defense if they feel threatened.″
The United States, Britain and France set up the no-fly zones in 1991-92 to halt air attacks against Kurdish rebels in the north and Shiite Muslim rebels in the south.