Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Don't Mention the War-Reparations

Repairing Iraq
Latest Comment is free on Iraq, Iran and Reparations.
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One of the many injustices of the Iraq war is that the war-torn country is still paying reparations to its powerful neighbors.
Ian Williams

March 13, 2007 9:30 PM

Why is war torn Iraq still paying for Gulf potentates? And why is no one mentioning it?

In all the talk about Iraqi oil and development, you would think that "reparations" was a four-letter word. No one mentions it in diplomatic circles.

But while Washington was appealing to, and bullying, the world to provide development funds for Iraq as fast as Halliburton and its pals could siphon them off, the new, de-Ba'athed Iraq has been paying 5% of its oil revenue in reparations. Or rather "compensation", since reparations, rightly, got a bad press after Versailles.

In fact, that 5% was a big reduction from the original 30% that the Security Council imposed. Indeed, the biggest diversion of funds from the Oil for Food programme, even more than the $10 billion surplus that it handed over to the US-run Iraq development fund, was the $16 billion that went to the UN Compensation Commission in reparations - mostly to major companies and the Gulf States. The cut went down to 25% over the course of the OFF programme and, after the invasion, the Security Council reduced it to the 5% that Iraq still pays.

But there is much irony in the fact that Iraq has to pay anything at all. At about the time that the first Bush administration was being incredibly vindictive in its resolutions against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, and ordering these reparations, a little known report landed very quietly in the UN put the blame for the Iran-Iraq war on Baghdad. The report existed because, as part of the peace deal the conflict, Iran insisted that a commission establish responsibility for the war. Accordingly, in December 1991, UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar reported that Iraq's attack on Iran "cannot be justified under the charter of the United Nations, any recognized rules and principles of international law or any principles of international morality and entails the responsibility for the conflict."

And so one would have thought that Iran had multiple liens on any compensation going around. Not only had Iraq launched the war, it had breached numerous international conventions in its use of chemical weapons and mistreatment of prisoners.

What is more, it was the Gulf States who had bankrolled Saddam's war were now to be the chief beneficiaries of the Iraqi compensation - while the UK and USA, who were the main movers of the sanctions and compensation resolution against Baghdad, had provided overt diplomatic and covert military backing for the Iraqi attack.

At the time I actually went to Iran's UN Ambassador and asked why Tehran was not raising a claim for compensation, and he said that Iran was satisfied with the moral vindication. Easily satisfied indeed: the report apportioning blame must have been one of the least publicised UN reports ever!

But the reparations were still going to the wrong people. It could be argued that the Ba'athist regime's reparations meant that they had less money to build WMDs with - but that money was coming from the Oil for Food coffers. (And one notes that the conservative columnists who howled about the 2% that the UN took from the mouths of Iraqi children for administering the fund never once mentioned the 30% going to Kuwait or Iraq.)

Since Saddam was overthrown, Iraq has paid out another $5 billion, and now has looming over it a further $30 billion that the Commission has awarded. Whatever sliver of justice there was in the original reparations has surely completely evaporated by now. The Iraqi people had neither votes nor voice in picking Saddam or directing his policies. Such collective punishment is exactly what the ICJ ducked in its recent decision on Serbia.

It really is time to stop these atavistic reparations. But someone has to mention them first - and there is still an uncanny silence in diplomatic circles.

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