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Kurds Oppose U.N. Resolution's Provision on Oil Funds

Two groups say the terms ending Iraqi sanctions will cost their region $4 billion in unspent revenue.

May 24, 2003|Azadeh Moaveni | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Two Iraqi Kurdish groups that assisted in the U.S. military victory over Saddam Hussein objected Friday to a key provision in the U.N. resolution ending sanctions against Iraq, charging that it would deprive their northern region of more than $4 billion in unspent oil revenue.

Under the terms of the resolution, passed by the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, U.S. and British civilian administrators in Iraq will wield full control over the country's oil resources.

All leftover funds from the U.N.'s oil-for-food program will be transferred into an Iraqi development fund, which in effect will dump the money earmarked for the north into a national pot, without any provision for reimbursing the Kurds.

"This is to our great disadvantage, at a time when we're already suffering," said Hoshyar Zebari, a senior official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Between the obstructive tactics used by Hussein's government in its handling of the U.N. program and the cumbersome approval procedures of the Security Council, much of the money the Kurds had planned on for revitalizing the north languished in escrow accounts.

"These funds need to be returned [to the Kurds] transparently," said Qubad Talabany, a spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. "It's not our fault they haven't been spent."

The toll of the war in Iraq is being felt around the country, but distinctly so in the north, where Kurds have become used to a more efficient and responsive form of governance since the region became semiautonomous in 1991.

Due to the disruption in the oil-for-food program caused by the war, the north's economy is bust, the currency is devalued, and an estimated 100,000 civil servants have not received their salary for three months, Zebari said.

Both Kurdish parties said they were not consulted by the United States as the resolution was being drafted, and now say they will press the Security Council to salvage the funds set aside for the north.

Kurdish forces helped secure northern cities during the Iraq war.

The perception that the United States is overlooking Kurdish concerns while delicate negotiations continue over the formation of an interim government could exacerbate frustration with the coalition's reconstruction effort.

"We stood with the coalition and fought through the war," Zebari said. "We should be rewarded, not punished."

The ending of nearly 13 years of crippling sanctions is a defining moment for postwar Iraq, but the Kurdish groups are not the only ones to greet the news with less than euphoria.

"There are more significant things, like security" to be dealt with, said Nadhif Aboudi, a 50-year-old construction worker.

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