WASHINGTON — By sending some of his best troops south toward the border with Kuwait, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein seems to have shattered his country's hope of having the United Nations lift the sanctions that have devastated its economy.
Word of the troop movements came Friday as Iraq's top diplomat, Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz, was appealing to the United Nations to lift the sanctions, which he said are responsible for growing malnutrition, inadequate medical care and widespread suffering.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly devoted almost entirely to the issue of sanctions, Aziz claimed that Baghdad has fully implemented many of the conditions imposed by the U.N. Security Council after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and is entitled to at least partial relief from the sanctions. But he said the United States has prevented the council from relaxing the embargo.
From Iraq's standpoint, the most troublesome sanction prohibits Baghdad from selling its oil on world markets except under a tight U.N. supervision in which all of the revenue would be devoted to humanitarian relief within Iraq and to payment of war reparations to Kuwait. Iraq denounced the restrictions as a violation of its sovereignty and refused to sell its oil under those conditions.
Iraq offered no explanation for advancing its forces toward Kuwait. A Defense Ministry statement said only that Iraqi troop movements on Iraqi territory were no one else's business. But coupled with Aziz's speech in New York, the action seemed a particularly heavy-handed--and almost certainly self-defeating--attempt to intimidate the world community.
"If it is a serious deployment, then it runs counter to any interest in lifting the embargo," said William B. Quandt, a former National Security Council Middle East expert.
"If they are trying to get countries to ease up on the embargo, it seems counterproductive, because one requirement for lifting the embargo is for them to respect the Kuwait border," said Quandt, now a professor at the University of Virginia.
The sanctions originally were imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990. After Iraq's defeat the following year in the Persian Gulf War, the Security Council ruled that the sanctions would remain in place until Iraq destroyed its nuclear and chemical weapons programs, ended persecution of Kurds and other Iraqi minority groups, recognized the sovereignty of Kuwait and accepted a U.N.-imposed settlement of a border dispute with Kuwait.
Before the latest troop movements, Iraq seemed to be making some headway in its effort to win the right to unrestricted sale of its oil. Earlier this year, U.N. inspectors reported that Iraq was in substantial compliance with the provisions requiring destruction of its nuclear weapons potential.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said recently that his country--like the United States a permanent member of the Security Council--believes that it is time to allow Iraq to resume oil sales, at least for a trial period.
But the United States continues to insist that the sanctions be kept in place, saying the Iraqis have not complied with all aspects of the resolution. Iraq has not yet officially recognized Kuwait or accepted the border demarcation.
In his speech to the General Assembly, Aziz bitterly attacked the U.S. position.
"The United States of America is persistently obstructing any steps toward the direct legal application of the resolutions of the (Security) Council, particularly those provisions relating to lifting sanctions from Iraq, and is conducting itself on the basis of biased political motives which bear no relation to either the resolutions of the Council or the (U.N.) charter," he said.