Annan said in the letter that responsibility for caring for Iraq’s 26 million people would lie ‘with the authority exercising effective control in the country.’ He said that the UN could play its role in meeting crucial needs if the council authorised it to do so.

The request follows the announcement on 18 March that activities in the oil-for-food programme would be suspended in anticipation of an outbreak of hostilities. This has ended deliveries of humanitarian goods into Iraq and the termination of exports of Iraqi crude oil under the programme from Mina al-Bakr. About 16 million Iraqis depend upon goods paid for by exports of Iraqi oil in the scheme. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says it estimates most Iraqis have at least four weeks of rations. The organisation is preparing a $1,000 million food plan to replace the oil-for-food programme.