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U.N.'s Iraq Oil-For-Food Plan Ends

The United Nations oil-for-food program officially ends on Friday, seven years after the unique enterprise began feeding the majority of Iraqis. The U.S.-led coalition will take over the multi-billion dollar operation and continue supplying Iraqis with food until June.

Oil-for-food was the only humanitarian program funded entirely from resources belonging to the country it was designed to help, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Thursday.

It became a lifeline for 90 percent of Iraqis and Annan said the program halved the malnutrition rate among children there.

The program was created in December 1996 to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It allowed Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil, provided the money went primarily to buy humanitarian goods and pay reparations to victims of the 1991 Gulf War.

"At that time, few of us could have imagined that those sanctions would remain in place for nearly 13 years, or the terrible toll that they would impose on the health and nutrition of millions of innocent people," Annan said.

The Security Council, which paid tribute to the program on Thursday, decided in May to gradually shut down the program and transfer responsibility for its functions to the coalition on Friday. The program's remaining assets, contracts, and files will be formally transferred at midnight EST, about 8 a.m. Saturday in Baghdad.

The Security Council president, Angola's U.N. Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins, said even as it is phased out over the coming months, the program would likely play a key role in Iraq's reconstruction.

Annan stressed that Iraqis working for the United Nations had done the bulk of the program's work and he paid tribute to workers who lost their lives while working with oil-for-food.

"We are handing over all these responsibilities, together with the remaining funds and assets - assets ranging from schools to electrical power stations and some $8.2 billion worth of food, medicines and other supplies," Annan told the Security Council.

During the seven years the United Nations ran the program, Iraq exported $65 billion of oil. Some $46 billion of that revenue went to the oil-for-food program, Benon Sevan, the head of the program, said earlier this week in his final report to the council.

The program has also deposited $3 billion into the Development Fund for Iraq to be used to rebuild the country and more money will be turned over when the program's final bills are paid.

Annan suspended the program in March on the eve of the U.S.-led military campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. On May 22 after the war ended, the Security Council lifted economic and trade sanctions and ordered a six-month phase-out of the oil-for-food program.

All proceeds from Iraqi oil sales are now going into the Development Fund, which is controlled by the United States and Britain. The coalition gave assurances this week that Iraqis will continue to receive food and other goods through June.

The United Nations, which recently pulled its staff out of Iraq because it is too dangerous, also will continue to play a role in Iraq's reconstruction, Annan said.

"We are closing the oil-for-food program, but we remain determined to continue helping Iraq's long-suffering people in whatever ways are still open to us," Annan said.

By Regan Morris

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