U.N. officials say Kurdish authorities in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil are seizing millions of dollars worth of U.N. assets, including automobiles and computer equipment. Kurdish leaders say the equipment was purchased with Iraqi oil revenue under the Saddam Hussein regime, and is part of an authorized transfer of assets from the United Nations to local authorities.
The dispute over property began in June, after Kurdish authorities took possession of U.N. vehicles and office equipment. Many of the assets were left behind when U.N. staffers at offices in Basra, Irbil and Baghdad evacuated the country following a deadly bomb attack on U.N. headquarters last year.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told VOA's Kurdish service that the seizures have since expanded in scope.
"This is U.N. property and the U.N. does own this equipment," he said. "It's a very large amount of equipment, including 40 vehicles, several hundred communications items, computers, and so forth."
Kurdish leaders deny that they are seizing U.N. assets.
They say Iraqi oil revenue paid for the equipment under a $36 billion oil-for-food program that funded U.N. humanitarian programs throughout Iraq.
Kurdish spokesman Hosyar Abdurrahman Seewelee, from the Ministry of Humanitarian Aid in the Kurdish regional administration in Irbil, told VOA that U.N. officials authorized the transfer of assets last year. He says the equipment transfer was part of an agreement between the United Nations, the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority and two Kurdish administrations in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Jameel Khader, a minister from the Kurdish administration in Sulemaniya, says the secretary-general has been misinformed, partly because the United Nations is managing its Iraqi operations out of a field office in Amman, Jordan. He calls for the United Nations to send a delegation to investigate.
In the meantime, the U.N. spokesman, Mr. Haq, says the property dispute makes it difficult for U.N. workers to re-establish a presence there.
"In terms of return to places like Irbil, obviously the lack of assets, the seizure of our assets and vehicles, does hinder our efforts to return, and we hope that this matter will be taken up by the local authorities and resolved," he said.
Officials say a small team of U.N. workers, headed by the new special envoy to Iraq, is currently on the way to Baghdad to help facilitate Iraqi elections.