US, Britain urge UN official in Iraq to quit
By Roula Khalaf, Middle East Editor
The US and Britain are pressing for the dismissal of Hans Von Sponeck, the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator in Baghdad, according to senior western diplomats.
The push to get rid of Mr Von Sponeck is driven by frustration with his public statements on the debilitating effects of the nine-year-old UN sanctions on Iraq.
But Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, who has suffered his own share of criticism on his handling of Iraq from Washin gton and London, is resisting.
He is believed to have told Mr Von Sponeck last weekend to stay in his job for another year.
Senior western diplomats said yesterday the p ressures being exercised on Mr Von Sponeck were similar to the events that l ed his predecessor, Denis Halliday, an Irish national, to leave the job in O ctober 1998.
Mr Halliday quit the UN altogether and now campaigns for a lifting of sanct ions on Iraq.
The US and UK have followed a policy that aim s to maintain the sanctions on Iraq and to blame the effects of the embargo on the regime of President Saddam Hussein. They consider that UN offic ials who speak out against sanctions are playing into Mr Saddam's hands.
US and British officials maintain Iraqi s are not receiving enough food and medicine under the oil-for-food programm e, which allows Iraq to sell $5.3bn of oil every six months to buy humanitar ian goods, because the Iraqi government refuses to distribute the goods.
But Mr Von Sponeck, a German who oversees implementation of oil-for-food, has spoken of the destruction of Iraqi socie ty under sanctions. [emphasis added]
He has pointed out that, of all goods receive d by the end of August under the oil-for-food deal, 88.8 per cent had been d istributed.
He has echoed concerns expressed recently by Mr Annan, who sent a letter to the security council last week indirectly cri ticising the US for holding up approval of hundreds of contracts for humanit arian goods under oil-for-food.
At a time when the UN security council is dea dlocked on policy towards Iraq - and on whether been arguing that the UN should consider sanctions relief separately from disarmament issues.
Under UN resolutions, sanctions can only be l ifted when Iraq is declared free from weapons of mass destruction.
"I am not anti-UK or US or pro-Iraqi, I am for people," he said recently. "What may have been a harm less deprivation in the first two years, nine and a half years down the road has led to very serious cracks in the social fabric."
He said it was his "honest conviction that you cannot deprive people from their fundamental human rights. [Iraqis] have as much right for employment, education and health as a nyone else, but oil-for-food has at best given them a minimum." [em phasis added]
The US and UK also complained to the secretar y-general last year about Prakash Shah, Mr Annan's former envoy to Baghdad, after Mr Shah warned in a press interview of the effects of sanctions on Ira qi society.
A diplomat said: "There was a feel ing that Halliday had become a kind of militant, and it was thought Von Spon eck, who is very calm, would be different. But he too started to speak about sanctions."