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U.N. Suspends Work of Iraq Staff

July 16, 2000

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The United Nations has suspended the work of its international observers in southern Iraq for security reasons, the U.N. spokesman for the oil-for-food program in Iraq said Sunday.

The decision, effective Sunday, came less than three weeks after an armed Iraqi took hostages inside the Food and Agriculture Organization office in Baghdad, leading to a shootout with Iraqi guards that killed two people and injured seven.

U.N. spokesman George Somerwill was emphatic, however, that ``there was no specific incident that triggered this decision.″

``The suspension was decided upon advice from other sources,″ he said without being any more specific.

Somerwill, who described the suspension as temporary, would not say how long the international observers would stay out of southern Iraq or how many people were being pulled from the provinces of Basra, Dhi Qar, Maisan and Qadissiya.

The suspension, he said, affects all U.N. international observers in the four southern provinces. That would include international employees monitoring food distribution for the oil-for-food program as well as those affiliated with the Rome-based FAO and other U.N. agencies.

``The (oil-for-food) program will continue unaffected all over the country,″ Somerwill said, adding that Iraqi employees will continue monitoring the arrival and quality of items being distributed in the south under the program.

International staff would continue their work in the central and northern parts of the country, aided by those who were pulled from the four southern provinces.

The oil-for-food program was set up in 1996 as a way to ease the pain the strict U.N. sanctions aimed at the government were having on Iraqi citizens. It allows Iraq to use the proceeds from oil sales to buy humanitarian goods, including food and medicine, under close U.N. scrutiny.

The sanctions, which have crippled the economy and driven millions of Iraqis into poverty, were imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which led to the Gulf War. They are not to be removed until U.N. inspectors verify Iraq is rid of all weapons of mass destruction and the capability to rebuild its arsenal.

The Iraqi government tightened security around U.N. offices in Baghdad after the June 28 attack by Fowad Hussein Haydar, 38, who said he was fed up with the sanctions.

Iraq and the United Nations, meanwhile, could be headed for another flare-up over a new U.N. weapons inspection team that is to begin work in Iraq in August after a 1 1/2-year inspections hiatus.

In an interview with the government’s official newspaper, al-Jumhuriya, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan again rejected a December U.N. Security Council resolution that paved the way for the new inspections regime.

``We totally reject the resolution ... reject negotiating about it and any correction for the resolution because it is an example of American intentions to prolong sanctions,″ Ramadan was quoted as saying.

Ramadan did not say whether Iraq would allow members of the new agency into Iraq.

Mistrust and a lack of cooperation between Iraq and U.N. weapons inspectors led to the eventual dissolution of the last U.N. inspections regime. In late 1998, the United Nations pulled its inspectors just before four days of unyielding airstrikes on Baghdad meant to punish the Iraqi government for not cooperating with inspectors. Iraq barred the inspection team’s return after the strikes.

Although he said Iraq does not trust the Security Council and called its members ``liars,″ Ramadan said Iraq rejects only anything to do with the December resolution. ``We do not reject talks with the Security Council,″ he said.

Iraq long has demanded the sanctions be lifted immediately. The December resolution still ties any chance of easing the sanctions to Iraqi cooperation.

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