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UN Closes Chapter on Gulf War Claims Process


The U.N. Compensation Commission that oversees the 1991 Gulf War reparations, has awarded more than $360 million for claims of losses by thousands of individuals and environmental claims by six governments. These awards mark the completion of 12 years of claims processing by the commission.

The U.N. Compensation Commission was considering a total of $50 billion in claims by six governments for environmental damage they suffered during the 1991 Gulf war. In the end, these governments, which include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran, were awarded only $252 million, or less than 0.5 percent of what they wanted.

Nevertheless, the cash-strapped government of Iraq, which is expected to pay the reparations, thinks the amount of money is too much.

The commission has approved awards totaling $52.5 billion. Iraq has already paid more than $19 billion of this, leaving it with an outstanding debt of nearly $33 billion.

Spokesman for the Commission, Joe Sills, confirms that Iraq called for an end to the U.N. Compensation program earlier this week and argued that the debts should be settled bilaterally.

Mr. Sills says the program only can be ended with the joint approval of the government of Iraq and a subsidiary body of the U.N. Security Council, the governing council.

He says he believes there is a good possibility of bilateral negotiations to resolve debt issues remaining between Iraq and other countries, particularly Kuwait.

"Forty one billion of this $52.5 billion is Kuwaiti," said Joe Sills. "And, then Saudi Arabia to see if they can work out some bilateral arrangements. And, if they do that, all power to them. But if they do not do that and the governing council and the government of Iraq do not decide to change this five percent, then the government of Iraq is bound to continue to pay five percent into the [compensation] fund until this is satisfied. No matter how many decades down the road that is."

Five percent of Iraq's oil revenue goes toward paying off the 1991 Gulf War reparations.

A private group called Voices in the Wilderness is lobbying to have the United Nations forgive Iraq's debt. Members of the group have been holding a fast this week in Geneva to press home this point. A representative, Kathy Kelly, says it is immoral to ask an impoverished, war-torn Iraq to pay out money it does not have.

"The claimants, many of which include wealthy countries and wealthy corporations have got to wait until Iraq's desperately needed oil revenue is reinvested back into systems that could help save the lives of children at terrific risk right now," said Kathy Kelly.

The U.N. Commission is due to make a next payment of $200 million early next month. Unless the situation changes, the Commission says it will continue to make quarterly payments to victims of the 1991 Gulf War.

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