by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
much-publicized looting of television sets and furniture from several shops in Baghdad last week was "chicken feed," says a cynical Arab diplomat with tongue firmly entrenched in cheek. "Wait until the American oil companies lay their hands on Iraq. That's when the real looting begins."
Savoring his military victory over Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush has called for the removal of the 12-year-old United Nations embargo on the country, not only to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people but also to permit U.S. oil companies to move into a country with the world's third largest oil reserves -- more than 112 billion barrels.
"Now that Iraq is liberated," Bush said Wednesday, "the United Nations should lift economic sanctions on that country."
No trade with Iraq, for oil or any goods, is possible until and unless UN sanctions are lifted.
But diplomats, senior UN officials and Middle East experts predict an uphill task for Bush in a 15-member UN Security Council that remains divided on sanctions.
The United States, one of the most scrupulous enforcers of the embargo over the last 12 years, has reversed its role and wants the crippling restrictions removed -- perhaps motivated more by self-interest than altruism.
But France, Russia and Germany -- three key members in the Security Council who opposed the U.S.-led military attack on Iraq -- do not want sanctions lifted immediately for two reasons: Baghdad is still under U.S. military occupation, and the move could be seen to provide legitimacy for an arguably illegal war.
After a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in St Petersburg last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of the dangers of "some new kind of colonialism" in which the United States might impose its own brand of democracy on a country wholly unsuited for it.
"This may be the first of many battles addressing the crucial issue of legitimacy," says Stephen Zunes, associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Programme at the University of San Francisco.
"If the United States continues to refuse a major UN role in shaping the political future of Iraq, most of the international community will view whatever new Iraqi regime emerges -- rightly or wrongly -- as a puppet of a foreign occupier," Zunes told IPS.
A senior UN official expects a replay of the earlier political confrontation -- the United States and Britain versus other Security Council members -- that deprived Washington of the authorization it desperately needed for its war on Iraq.
But that scenario could change if the big powers conspire to safeguard their own commercial interests in Iraq -- "and to hell with the interests of the Iraqi people," he adds.
Looked at cynically, how the Russian, French and Germans vote on a 'no sanctions' resolution might eventually depend on U.S. willingness to share multi-billion-dollar oil and reconstruction contracts, says the official.
But the outcome of a Security Council vote might not be so calculated, suggests one observer.
Jim Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS that the Security Council is "so split and so paralyzed it does not know where it is going."
Members are doing away with "prepared texts" and refusing to put anything down on paper by holding closed-door meetings described as "informal informals," he added.
Paul quoted a UN diplomat who described Security Council members as "blind men groping around in a room full of furniture."
"They are bumping into a lot of things -- and they don't know where they are going," he said.
According to Paul, Council deliberations over lifting sanctions are likely to be lengthy because members want "control over the process."
"This is a big moment of leverage for Council members," he said, adding that it is also an opportunity for them to extract concessions from the United States.
Over the last few days, the United States has been negotiating behind closed doors for a resolution aimed at lifting sanctions.
But U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Wednesday that he still does not have "specific language or a specific resolution to propose at this specific moment of time."
Germany, France and Russia also realize that if sanctions are lifted, the United Nations will lose control of the billions of dollars in oil revenues it now disburses in the "oil-for- food" program, which is scheduled to be renewed by the Security Council May 12.
The program, which was jointly supervised by the United Nations and the government of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, was responsible for providing food and medical supplies to 60 percent of Iraq's 27 million sanctions-hit people.
Paul points out that UN resolutions specifically say that sanctions will be lifted only when UN arms inspectors -- not the United States -- certify that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Asked about reports that the United States may plant evidence of weapons in order to justify its attack on Iraq, Paul said: "That is more so the reason why (UN chief arms inspector Hans) Blix would have to go into Iraq and check whether there are fingerprints belonging to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)," he added.
Blix may well say, "wait a minute. We have been here before and we never saw these weapons of mass destruction. Where did they come from?" Paul says.
April 18, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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