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U.N. Frees Billions in Oil-for-Food Aid for Iraqi People

Following a week of contentious debate, the council voted 15-0 to authorize aid for Iraqis facing shortages of clean water and food as the war continued into its second week.

Several nations opposed to the war, including Russia and Syria, had been leery that an aid resolution would be seen as legitimizing the military action. Germany, another nation that opposed the U.S. and British-led campaign, brokered a compromise that led to the vote.

“This was a good day for the United Nations, a good day for the Security Council, and I hope a good day for the suffering people of Iraq,” Gunter Pleuger, Germany’s ambassador to the U.N., told Reuters.

In reinstating the so-called “oil-for-food” program, the council gave control of the aid operation for the next 45 days to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The U.N. started the oil-for-food program in 1995, to ease the suffering brought by five years of stiff economic sanctions that followed the Gulf War. Under the agreement, Iraq was allowed to sell unlimited amounts of oil, so long as the funds go to food and medical needs.

Before the Iraq war began, the aid program was the major source of food for 60 percent of Iraq’s 27.1 million people. The U.N. halted the program on March 17, when Annan ordered the evacuation of 300 relief workers from Iraq.

On Thursday, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the U.N. to resume the aid.

“More than half the Iraqi people depend on this program as their sole source of food,” President Bush said during a joint news conference with Blair. “This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized, and the Security Council should give Secretary General Annan the authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of assistance.”

The reinstatement of the U.N. program comes on the same day that coalition troops finished de-mining the port of Umm Qasr enough to allow the British ship Sir Galahad to dock and begin unloading nearly 300 tons of emergency food and water rations.

The U.N. also announced an appeal for $2.2 billion in emergency humanitarian assistance for Iraq over the next six months, with $1.3 billion earmarked for food. The international body also assigned more than 3,000 staff members to deliver the aid in Iraq, according to Louise Fréchette, the U.N. deputy secretary general.

“The war is now creating acute new needs, and that is why we are appealing for new money today,” Fréchette said.

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