As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated.
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3, Issue 4
An Important Lesson about Sanctions
By Liz Palmer and Gary Milhollin
It has been almost three months since Charles Duelfer released his 900 page chronicle of Saddam Hussein’s weapon efforts. His Iraq Survey Group found no mass destruction weapons in Iraq – a fact that the media made much of. Now that the report has been thoroughly digested, however, it is clear that it holds a second lesson, which is that an arms embargo is a leaky affair that many governments are willing to flout. For those hoping to apply U.N. sanctions to Iran, Duelfer’s report tells a cautionary tale.
Beginning in 1990, when the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 661, it became illegal to sell arms to Iraq. Nevertheless, the Survey Group documented a continuous string of violations dating from the early 1990's up to the present, many of which were endorsed by national governments.
Less than two months before the United States invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, Rosoboronexport, the government-owned agency responsible for Russian arms exports, negotiated to sell shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles as well as anti-tank missiles to Saddam’s army. Anyone could see that these might be used against U.S. forces. Larger, longer-range air defense systems and tanks were also discussed. According to the Duelfer report, Rosoboronexport knew “it [could] not be involved with directly supplying Iraq with weapons” and thus “demanded that they be permitted to ship the weapons through a third country with false end-user certificates.” The false certificates were readily procured through Syria.
Belarus was even more active. The report found that “Belarus was the largest supplier of sophisticated high-technology conventional weapons to Iraq from 2001 until the fall of the Regime.” Further, “[c]omplicity in this illicit trade was exhibited at the highest levels of the Belarusian Government.” Key exports to Iraq from Belarus were radar technology and air defense systems. Eager to promote this illicit trade, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko promoted the formation of a joint Belarusian-Iraqi company in Baghdad that would serve as a clearinghouse. Just three months before the invasion, President Lukashenko gave Belarus’ ministry of defense a blank check to sell whatever military supplies Iraq wanted.
The flow of prohibited military items from Ukraine started in 1995. The ISG found government complicity in this trade, which included missile technology and equipment. In 2000, the Ukrainian government was implicated in selling Iraq a Kolchuga antiaircraft radar system. A 90-second audio recording caught Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma personally approving the sale through Jordan and authorizing the state export agency to bypass export controls.
Syrian companies with links to high government officials regularly and openly sold weapons and military technology to Iraq. These companies often acted as front companies for sellers in other countries. SES International, owned by Dhu al-Himma Shalish, head of presidential security in Syria and a relative of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, signed 257 contracts with various Iraqi ministries between 2000 and 2003. Sources interviewed by the Survey Group also implicated Syrian intelligence and defense officials in weapons trade with Iraq. The Survey Group concluded that Syria “became the primary route for Iraq’s illicit imports” by providing false end-user certificates to sellers in other countries and by making its territory available for transshipment of goods.
Yemen, said the report, was willing to become “a state trade intermediary for Iraq, providing Baghdad with ‘end-user’ cover for military goods prohibited by [U.N.] sanctions and resolutions.” At least one illicit deal for routing military equipment to Iraq through Yemen was negotiated directly by high-ranking Yemeni government officials. The Survey Group even found that Yemeni President Ali ‘Abdallah Salih instructed his brother, the Yemeni air force commander, to sell Iraq spare parts for military aircraft and vehicles out of Yemeni stocks. He also ordered his brother to acquire additional materials from Russia.
Other governments, while not actively pursuing illicit trade with Iraq, turned a blind eye to such activities. The Turkish government “tolerated, if not welcomed” illicit trade with Iraq, which was largely for common military-use materials. French commercial attachés promoted trade with French companies while assisting them in avoiding sanctions. Egypt provided Iraq with materials that were particularly difficult for Iraq to acquire, such as certain steel and aluminum alloys. The Bulgarian government also allegedly turned a blind eye to illicit trade.
While some leakage in an embargo should be expected, the fact that foreign governments actually encouraged and even authorized sellers to circumvent a U.N. resolution is highly demoralizing. The sales call into question whether sanctions can be effective at all. As the Bush administration pushes for similar U.N. sanctions on Iran, it should keep the Iraqi experience in mind.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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