Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Iraq, No-Fly Zones and sanctions

  By letter dated 28 February 2001, the Chairman 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 (NFZs) and sanctions.

  The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Memorandum FCO/FAC/001-01 of 8 March 2001 sets out the background to the NFZs over Iraq. The Defence Committee's Thirteenth Report of Session 1999-2000 (dated 2 August 2000), on Iraqi No-Fly Zones (HC 453), also examined the background to the UK's participation in these operations.

  The NFZs were established in 1991 (in the north) and 1992 (in the south) in support of UN Security Council resolution 688 (1991) which called on the Iraqi regime to end its repression of the civilian population. HMG remains satisfied that the maintenance of the NFZs is legally justified as a necessary and proportionate measure to prevent a humanitarian crisis. The legal basis for British activity in the NFZs is kept under continuous review. In accordance with established practice, legal advice is not disclosed.

  Coalition aircraft conducting patrols in the NFZs are entitled to act in self-defence in response to efforts by the Iraqis to shoot them down. In January 2001, the Iraqis fired more surface-to-air missiles at coalition aircraft than they had in the whole of 2000. The action taken against Iraqi military targets on 16 February was a joint operation in self-defence by UK and US aircraft in response to this increased threat. There was full bilateral consultation over this operation.

  There is no relationship between the action in the NFZs on 16 February and the continuing review of our policy on sanctions. HMG has worked consistently to refine the "oil for food" programme with the aim of improving the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people, while targetting controls more closely on the Iraqi regime. We have led efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people through successive "oil for food" resolutions of the Security Council, including the introduction of "fast-track" clearance procedures for up to 16,000 listed humanitarian items. We aim to focus our controls increasingly on items of greatest concern—military equipment and WMD materials.

  We take seriously our responsibilities as a member of the UN Iraq Sanctions Committee. Whenever we become aware of apparent breaches of sanctions on Iraq we ask relevant governments to investigate them thoroughly. We raise clear violations of sanctions with the Committee. We are also leading efforts in the Committee to tackle Iraq's attempts to obtain revenue outside UN control through the imposition of illegal surcharges on its oil exports and illegal commissions on its humanitarian imports.

  The Chairman of the Committee asked about three possible sanctions-breaking activities. The attendance of businessmen from the US, or any other country, at the annual Baghdad Trade Fair is not in itself a breach of sanctions. The UN "oil for food" humanitarian programme, with revenue of about $14 billion since SCR 1284 was passed in December 1999, offers considerable opportunities for legitimate trade with Iraq. We are supporting British companies in their efforts to win a share of this trade.

  The UK contributes to the Multinational Interdiction Force's (MIF) patrols to deter smuggling in the Gulf. Small vessels smuggle oil from non-approved terminals at Abu Flus and Khawr al-Zubayr, through Iranian waters, for transhipment to larger vessels or onshore storage facilities in the UAE. The amount of oil smuggled via this route fluctuates depending on the price of oil and the effectiveness of patrols. Due to the interdiction efforts of the MIF and the Iranian authorities patrolling in the Gulf, the volume of oil exported illegally in this way has dropped to about 15,000 bpd, compared with 100,000 bpd smuggled in January 2000.

  We remain concerned at the smuggling of Iraqi oil by overland routes, including by truck through Turkey, which provides the Iraqi regime with revenue outside UN control. This also reduces the pressure on the regime to comply with its obligations and to cooperate with the UN in allowing weapons inspectors to return to Iraq. We continue to raise the illegal export of Iraqi oil both bilaterally with the countries concerned and in the Sanctions Committee.

  We are continuing our discussions on Iraq with the US administration and other key allies, focusing on our fundamental objective of containing the threat which Iraq poses to the region. We are considering how best to meet this objective while reducing the opportunity for the Iraqi regime to blame the UN humanitarian programme for its own shortcomings in providing for the Iraqi people.

3 April 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 10 May 2001