United Nations, May 22 (Reuters): The UN Security Council overwhelmingly approved today an end to 13-year-old sanctions against Iraq and gave the US and Britain extraordinary powers to run the country and its lucrative oil industry.
Despite misgivings by many council members, the 14-0 vote was a victory for the Bush administration, which made some last-minute concessions that opened the door to an independent, albeit limited UN role and the possibility of UN weapons inspectors returning to post-war Iraq. Syria made clear its opposition to the resolution by leaving its seat empty.
The final compromise in the seven-page resolution was an agreement by Washington for a Security Council review within 12 months on the implementation of the resolution. But the measure does not need to be renewed and stays in effect until an internationally recognised Iraqi government is established.
“It is an extremely important restoration of council consensus,” said Britain’s UN ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a co-sponsor of the resolution along with Spain.
He was referring to the council’s earlier refusal, particularly on the part of Russia, China, Germany and France, to authorise the US-led war against Iraq that ousted the government of President Saddam Hussein. All four voted “yes.”
The UN sanctions were imposed on Iraq following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But after Saddam’s fall, the US argued there was no reason for the trade and financial embargoes to continue. The resolution would give the US and Britain broad powers to run Iraq and sell its oil to fund reconstruction. It would also protect Iraq against lawsuits or attachments of its oil revenues until a permanent government is set up.
The US signalled its willingness this week to have inspectors from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, responsible for nuclear materials, return to Iraq. But the Bush administration is not eager for the return of chemical, biological and missile inspectors, commanded by Hans Blix, who has openly challenged some US assertions.
Before the war, US President George W. Bush repeatedly accused Iraq of having illicit weapons of mass destruction and said it would have to be disarmed by force. US teams searching for the dangerous weapons have not yet found them.
Gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades at a US armoured vehicle in the tense Iraqi town of Falluja late yesterday, prompting heavy retaliation that killed two Iraqis. Residents accused the soldiers of firing indiscriminately.
Captain Mike Riedmuller, the US commander in charge of the Fox unit occupying Falluja, said his soldiers had been attacked with grenades and AK-47 rifles while patrolling the city.
“We were also sniped at from rooftops and returned fire for one to two hours,” he said, adding that no soldiers had been injured.