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Since 1st March, 1999
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Tharoor pours cold water on US’ post-Iraq euphoria

Washington, April 9: Shashi Tharoor, the Calcutta-educated under-secretary general of the UN, has said a US-led administration in Iraq would have serious problems in selling that country’s oil or other exports since these goods would lack legal title under international law.

On a day when images of falling Saddam Hussein statues in Baghdad were beamed across the world, euphoria in Washington about a post-Saddam Iraq were tempered both by Tharoor and Mark Malloch-Brown, administrator of the UN Development Programme, who poured cold water on the idea that money from oil could be used to finance the reconstruction of Iraq.

“Just giving UN authorisation to a US-UK administration of the country is not what we have in mind,” said Malloch-Brown, who heads the main global body which deals with development work.

Tharoor’s statement to BBC’s Radio-4 in which he warned the US and the UK against appearing as “people dividing up the spoils of a conquest” is the most outspoken comment by any UN official so far on what lies ahead in Iraq.

“The UN has no desire whatsoever to see Iraq as some sort of treasure chest to be divided up,” he said, adding the US and the UK will have to “come to the Security Council to get the backing of international law for anything more ambitious than merely being an occupying power.”

Comments by these two senior UN officials threw new light on a scenario in which much of the world assumes that with Saddam Hussein’s regime gone, the problem of Iraq is defused and everything would be smooth sailing for those who brought about the regime change.

Malloch-Brown brought the optimists down to earth when he pointed out that “the oil industry of Iraq needs a sustained burst of new investment to modernise it and increase both its efficiency and its daily output before it is able to contribute significantly to the capital costs of reconstruction.”

For 12 years, constrained by sanctions, much of Iraq’s oil infarstructure has been disused or damaged and it would require a long and huge effort to put them back on stream.

Possibly in response, US Vice-President Dick Cheney said today that Iraqi oil output could go up to 2.5 or three million barrels per day by the end of this year.

But Iraq will need some “outside help and assistance” to get its oil fields fully operational, he added.

Like Tharoor, Malloch-Brown also referred to the legal problems of creating a new order in Iraq after the war, under which reconstruction can begin.

The UN is in charge of an escrow account for Iraq’s oil revenue, which was being used for imports of civilian goods by the old regime.

The problem is that purchase of these goods have to have prior approval by the UN Security Council.

Tharoor cautioned that the UN would not be keen to take on the “poisoned chalice” of running Iraq.

Using strong language, he pointed out that the UN was not “a private corporation that needs to increase its market share. We have quite enough to do elsewhere in the world.”

The war was a reality, he conceded, but any interim Iraqi authority would need UN authorisation.

However, if President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to proceed without endorsement from the Security Council, they would face “real difficulty in the extent to which other countries would be prepared to recognise this group as anything other than an offshoot or a branch of the military occupation in Iraq.”

In an earlier statement, Tharoor had said: “The rights of the Iraqi people to determine their own future is something the UN is very interested in upholding.”

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