BAGHDAD – The United States consistently accuses Iraq of being a country incapable of development, and under a “merciless Stalinist dictatorship.” Iraq consistently accuses the US of enforcing an inhuman embargo which has caused hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Some voices in the West recognize that the United Nations embargo and sanctions are not only playing against the interests of Iraq, but against the interests of the international community as well.
Mohamed Mamdi Salim, Iraq’s Minister of Trade, received Asia Times Online in his office, dressed in military uniform, to talk about the UN embargo.
Asia Times Online: What kind of trade is Iraq still allowed, considering the country is subjected to an array of UN sanctions?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: As you know, Iraq is allowed the “oil for food” program, in certain limited quantities: food, medicine, and other requirements for education, sanitation, agricultural equipment, etc. But there are severe difficulties in the process of approval of contracts, and consequently opening letters of credit and delivering the commodities.
Asia Times Online: How many contracts are blocked at the moment?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: More than US$8 billion worth of contracts.
Asia Times Online: Most of them are with European, Arab or Asian companies?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: With Arabian countries, Russia, France …
Asia Times Online: Who blocks these contracts?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: The United States, of course, and the British. There’s no objection at all from other members of the Security Council. Only the United States and Britain, since the beginning of “oil for food” in 1996. Sometimes Japan supports the United States, although the support is limited. The United States and Britain have a political attitude, rather than [an attitude] relating to the procedure of “oil for food.”
Asia Times Online: In the Iraqi government’s view, what could be done to circumvent this dead-end situation? Is there a way out?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: No, unless they change their position. The situation of approval runs through the veto system. [If] any country rejects any contract, or has any complaints on any contract, then that contract will be on hold. They have the power over the Security Council 661 Committee. So they are doing their job efficiently, rejecting contracts for the Iraqi people. The implementation of “oil for food” has reflected that policy and has become a project for meeting the requirements of United Nations compensation, United Nations expenses, balancing of oil prices, and not for the Iraqi people, due to the fact that Iraq received, from the US$52 billion during this program, only US$17 billion worth of commodities. US$10 billion was deducted by the United Nations for compensation and their expenses, and the remaining contracts are on hold.
Asia Times Online: So who is benefiting from the embargo and the “oil for food” program?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: The United Nations. And those who import oil.
Asia Times Online: What kind of contracts are blocked?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: Even food and medicine, they are blocking it. Basically the humanitarian side, which is related to water supply and purification of water. We are not allowed imports of pipes for supplying water to houses, for example. They have actually a policy of selecting any contract at random. Sometimes they approve a contract to import a commodity from certain countries, and reject one [for importing] from others.
Asia Times Online: Is there a fixed list of what you cannot import?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: They don’t say, “We are not allowing you to buy.” So we have to decide what kind of items to buy, we put them on the list, then we submit this list to the Sanctions Committee, and the committee decides whether to allow it or not.
Asia Times Online: Hospital doctors in Baghdad say they cannot import incubators, for instance. And you cannot import computers as well.
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: Yes. We are not allowed. Everything is 100 percent politically motivated.
Asia Times Online: Diplomatically and politically, would Iraq be able to change the situation with more support from other parts of the world?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: Europe itself has benefited from the contracts. “Oil for food” reflects the reality of the policy of the United States for the international community – using the blockade policy against their contracts with Iraq. They [the Europeans] know what is the real intention of the United States and Britain against Iraq. They [the Europeans] are trying but they cannot do much.
Asia Times Online: Is this all oil motivated?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: Of course it is oil, to stabilize the supply of oil rather than deliver food and medicine to the Iraqi people. This is entirely for the United States and United Nations compensation and expenses. The United Nations has been saved by this program, which has financed it significantly. Who works in this program? The richest people in the United Nations.
Asia Times Online: Wouldn’t Iraq be able to get the medicines it needs by evading the blockade?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: No. The important thing is how to pay. And we can pay only through an escrow account. The money is under United Nations approval. If you have the money controlled by the United Nations no one can sell you anything unless he gets the money.
Asia Times Online: Is Iraq part of an “axis of evil”?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: The “axis of evil” is the United States and Britain. Not Iraq, Iran or other Muslim countries.
Asia Times Online: So there are other motives for demonizing Iraq?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: Now Israel is destroying the Palestinian people, the Palestinian state, and Palestinian entities which are approved by the international community through the Oslo agreement supervised by the United States. The terrorist Sharon and the terrorist state Israel are destroying everything, even hijacking President Arafat. And the United States is supporting this policy.
Asia Times Online: Will the Arab world finally unite, politically and economically?
Mohamed Mamdi Salim: Well, they should. And they must. Because the United States will never look to their interests, even those who are under [the greatest] control of the United States. But the Arab people, even in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, are rejecting United States policy toward Arabs and toward Palestinians.