Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Iraq

  By letters dated 9 January and 13 February 2001, the Clerk to the Foreign Affairs Committee sought a memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on HMG's policy towards Iraq, including the No Fly Zones, with specific comment on articles in The Sunday Times of 24 December 2000 and the Sunday Telegraph of 28 January 2001 about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programmes.

  HMG's policy on Iraq is to seek to contain Saddam Hussein's threats to his neighbours and to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction, in accordance with the obligations set out in UN Security Council resolutions. When Iraq meets those obligations, sanctions can be lifted. The most recent comprehensive resolution—the UK-led UN SCR 1284, adopted in December 1999—imposes no new obligations on Iraq for the lifting of sanctions. It offers, for the first time, the suspension of sanctions if Iraq co-operates with the new arms control body, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). It also allows the substantial expansion and improvement of the UN "oil for food" programme. This has been achieved. There has been a seven-fold expansion of the programme since it began in 1996 and the majority of goods imported no longer need to be referred to the UN Sanctions Committee. But Iraq continues to reject UN SCR 1284 and refuses to co-operate with UNMOVIC. Despite this, under its Executive Chairman, Dr Hans Blix, UNMOVIC has continued preparations to begin its work in Iraq.

  We have continued to try to persuade Iraq to accept the resolution and allow progress towards the suspension and lift of sanctions. In August 2000 the Foreign Secretary sent messages to a number of Arab Foreign Ministers asking them to do what they could to encourage Iraqi co-operation. In response, six of them met Tareq Aziz in New York in early September. The UK Representative at the UN in New York also discussed the resolution with the Iraqi Ambassador to the UN in August. Over recent months Mr Hain, then Minister of State at the FCO, worked closely with both the Omani and Qatari Foreign Ministers to encourage Iraq to co-operate with the UN. We have seen no sign in these discussions of a change in Iraq's position. The UN Secretary-General however met the Iraqi Foreign Minister Al-Sahhaf in New York on 26/27 February, having initiated contact with the Iraqis in the margins of the OIC Summit in Doha last November.

  We constantly review the effectiveness of the instruments through which we pursue our policy. The Foreign Secretary held initial discussions with Colin Powell on 5-7 February. These were of a general and exploratory nature, considering a number of Iraqi issues, including our ideas for "narrowing and deepening" the sanctions regime. We shall continue to discuss with the US how best to focus on our fundamental objective, containing the threat which Iraq's military and weapons of mass destruction pose to the region.

  The importance of returning arms control inspectors to Iraq is highlighted by the issues raised in articles in The Sunday Times of 24 December 2000 and the Sunday Telegraph of 28 January 2001. We judge it highly unlikely that the Iraqi regime has a nuclear weapon yet. But if Iraq's nuclear programme had not been halted by the Gulf War, Saddam might well have had a nuclear weapon as early as 1993. In December 1998, when Iraqi intransigence forced weapons inspectors to leave the country, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessed that Iraq retained no significant nuclear capability. But since the end of 1998 the IAEA has been unable to provide assurances on Iraqi activity in this area. A UN panel of 22 independent experts concluded in March 1999 that serious gaps remained in Iraq's declarations on chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles, such as Iraq's failure to tell the truth over its production and weaponisation of VX (nerve agent). Statements from Baghdad in January 2001 repeating Iraqi claims to Kuwait are a reminder of Iraq's continuing ambitions and the need for the IAEA and UNMOVIC to re-establish an effective arms control regime in Iraq under SCR 1284.

  HMG fully shares the international concern about the humanitarian situation in Iraq. The Iraqi regime, not sanctions, is to blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people. We have led attempts to alleviate their plight through improvements in successive "oil for food" resolutions of the Security Council. With SCR 1284's removal of the ceiling on the amount of oil Iraq can export, about $14 billion was available for humanitarian expenditure last year. There is currently about $4 billion unallocated by the Iraqi regime in the UN account available to buy civilian goods and equipment. The UN has introduced simplified "fast-track" procedures to speed up the contract process. We work consistently to facilitate the export to Iraq of humanitarian goods and we will continue to refine the approval process further in any way consistent with the SCRs and the humanitarian interests of the Iraqi people. Meanwhile the Iraqi regime continues to exploit the suffering of the Iraqi people in its propaganda to press the UN to lift sanctions unconditionally. It could achieve the lifting of sanctions by co-operating with UNMOVIC. That it does not do so implies that the Iraqi regime gives priority to weapons, not the welfare of the Iraqi people. This is further reinforced by its failure, for example, to spend any of the $625 million allocated to the health sector during the last six-month phase of the "oil for food" programme.

  UK and US pilots continue to patrol the No Fly Zones (NFZ) over northern and southern Iraq. The NFZs were established in 1991 (north) and 1992 (south) in support of SCR 688 to stop Saddam Hussein from using his aircraft in the brutal repression of his own people as he had previously. Iraq's limited military incursion into Kurdish territory for three days in December 2000, and some 250 violations of the NFZs by Iraqi combat aircraft since December 1998, show Baghdad's continuing hostile intentions towards the Kurds and Shia of Iraq.

  Since late 1998, Iraqi forces have systematically targeted UK and US aircraft patrolling the NFZs. There have been over 1,200 threats against our aircrew, including artillery and missile attacks. In the first weeks of 2001 the threat to our aircrew increased. Iraq fired more missiles at our aircraft in January than in the whole of last year. This compelled us to act on 16 February against military targets directly linked to this increased threat, including some outside the NFZs. This action was a proportionate response in self-defence taken solely in order to reduce the risk to our pilots. It did not represent a change in policy on the NFZs, nor an escalation. Every effort was made to avoid civilian casualties. Iraqi claims of civilian casualties must be treated with extreme caution. The Iraqis have claimed such casualties even on days when no UK/US aircraft have been flying.

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