The move followed the announcement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the evening of 17 March that the world body was withdrawing all its international staff from Iraq in anticipation of the US-led assault.

The UN told MEED that no further shipments of humanitarian goods would take place through the five authorised routes into Iraq. This means that recipients of food and other goods supplied through the programme will have to depend on rations already distributed. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) told MEED on 18 March that August rations had been distributed and it was estimated that most recipients had at least four weeks of rations. The WFP is responsible for distributing humanitarian goods in areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The government of Iraq distributes goods in southern and central Iraq.

In the week ending 18 March, crude exports through the oil-for-food programme rose to 12.7 million barrels, equivalent to more than 1.8 million barrels a day (b/d), generating $340 million in revenue. This compared with 1.4 million b/d the previous week and 1.73 million b/d on average in February. There were 11 loadings from the UN-authorised terminals in the week. Five were from Mina al-Bakr, accounting for 6.4 million barrels, and six from Ceyhan, accounting for 6.3 million barrels. Unauthorised oil shipments are also being made to Jordan and Syria.

It is estimated that 16 million Iraqis depend on hand-outs in the oil-for-food programme, set up by the UN in 1997 to mitigate the impact of sanctions against Iraq on the civilian population.