The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on 14 May to simplify contract procedures for goods not directly subject to sanctions on Iraq. Resolution 1409 was passed unanimously, despite formal reservations registered by Syria.
Under the oil-for-food programme, which has been extended by six months from 30 May, Iraq will now be able to import civilian goods without obstruction. Contracts will be processed directly through the UN Office of the Iraq Programme: previously, contracts were reviewed by a sanctions committee set up by the Security Council and could be delayed indefinitely by any council member.
After a 10-day technical evaluation, applications will then be forwarded directly to experts from the UN Monitoring, Verification & Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who will check them against a 332-page checklist of 'dual-purpose' items - civilian items which may have military uses.
Disputing White House claims that the new sanctions regime was 'a step forward for the Iraqi people,' Baghdad said the continuation of the embargo was 'a new harassment'. The revised checklist, which continues to include items such as computers, crop-sprayers and cosmetics, 'will prevent any development of the Iraqi economy,' said the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, Mohammed al-Douri.
Despite its opposition to the sanctions regime, there are indications that Baghdad is beginning to consider allowing UN weapons inspectors to return. 'I think a lot of people are telling us the Iraqis are seriously thinking about this now,' US deputy ambassador to the UN James Cunningham said on 16 May. 'If there's a chance of bringing the Iraqis to that point for whatever reason, we think it's a useful thing to do.'