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Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 20, 2002

Oil-for-Food Program

A new fact sheet on this topic was released on November 21, 2003

The United States is at the forefront of UN efforts to enable Iraq to use its resources to acquire goods needed to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis. These international efforts, initiated by the United States and administered by the UN under the Oil-for-Food Program, have prevented a potential humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq. Instead, basic humanitarian needs are being met in Iraq, and the quality of life has been improving since Iraq belatedly accepted the Oil-for-Food Program in 1996. Continuation of this trend is up to Baghdad, and its willingness to cooperate fully with the United Nations. Unfortunately, the UN effort is hampered by Iraqi non-cooperation.

Key Facts and Chronology:

  • After the Gulf War and liberation of Kuwait, a UN Secretary-General's team determined that the Iraqi people faced a humanitarian catastrophe, including epidemic and famine, if life-support needs were not rapidly met.
  • The United States introduced UN Security Council Resolutions 706 and 712 in August and September of 1991.
  • These resolutions eased sanctions on the sale of oil, imposed in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, by allowing Iraq to sell a certain amount of oil and use proceeds to meet the humanitarian needs of its people. Iraq refused to cooperate and made no sales under 706 and 712, and refused to discuss alternate arrangements.
  • Instead, Iraq in effect held its own people hostage. It demanded that the UN Security Council lift all sanctions unconditionally. It simultaneously refused to cooperate with efforts to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, a key precondition set by the UN for ending sanctions. The Iraqi strategy was a duplicitous effort to blame the international community for the suffering of its people, and thereby force the UN to end sanctions without ensuring that Iraq relinquish its weapons of mass destruction programs.
  • UN Security Council Resolution 986, which passed in April 1995, established the current Oil-for-Food Program, to further facilitate the delivery of humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people. Iraqi intransigence, however, delayed implementation of the program until December 1996.
  • Oil-for-Food has steadily expanded over the years, lifting the limit on the amount of oil that could be sold and expanding the range of goods that can be purchased. In May 2002, the United States led an initiative to streamline UN procedures for the export of goods into Iraq under the Program. This authorized the export of all goods, except those prohibited under the arms embargo or contained on a list of "dual-use" items that could have military or weapons of mass destruction applications. Items on this list, the so-called "Goods Review List," are subject to special review procedures.
  • In spite of Iraqi subversion, Oil-for-Food has been a dramatic success. $25 billion in humanitarian supplies and equipment have been delivered to Iraq, and another $10 billion is in the pipeline. Caloric intake has doubled, and communicable diseases have declined significantly among the Iraqi population. The transportation, agriculture, and electricity sectors have also been rehabilitated. In his November 2002 Report to the Security Council on the Oil-for-Food Program, the UN Secretary-General observed that "the program has made and continues to make a major difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis."
  • More could be done, if Saddam Hussein would fully cooperate with the UN, both in the Oil-for-Food Program and in disarmament. Instead, the Iraqi government continues to exploit the Program. It has withheld sales from the market for political reasons and continues to smuggle oil out illegally - both of which deprive the Program of revenue. The Iraqi regime continues to divert dual-use items from humanitarian needs to military programs. All exports of military items to Iraq continue to be barred by UN Security Council resolutions.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Doesn't buying Iraqi oil just support Saddam Hussein?

A: No, not if it is purchased through the Oil-for-Food Program. Proceeds are deposited directly into a UN escrow account. The use of these funds is administered by the UN's Office of Iraq Programs for the benefit of the Iraqi people. 72% of all proceeds fund the humanitarian program. Another 25% underwrites reparations owed by Iraq for damage and destruction during its invasion and illegal occupation of Kuwait. 2.2% covers administration of the UN Office. The remaining 0.8% funds the UN arms inspectors in Iraq.

Q: Isn't the United States seeking to withhold needed medicines from the Iraqi people?

A: No. We are proposing that the UN Sanctions Committee on Iraq review requests for medications that might have military use when the requests are for quantities that are grossly in excess of any civilian requirement. The United States opposes allowing the Iraqi military to stockpile quantities of certain medicines that could be used to protect its troops in the event Iraq launched chemical or biological warfare.

Released on December 20, 2002

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