Paul Bremer, the US-occupation administrator in Iraq, told a Pentagon briefing on Friday that Iraqis should not be made to pay for a war most of them opposed.

"Well, I have to say that it is curious to me to have a country whose annual per-capita income GDP is about $800 … pay reparations to countries whose per-capita GDP is a factor of 10 times that, for a war which all of the Iraqis who are now in government opposed," Bremer said.

Bremer said Iraq owed about $200 billion in total debt, with about $98 billion in war reparations claims.

Bremer's comments are striking because the US was the key player driving the imposition of the UN sanctions regime in 1991 that demanded reparations from Iraq.

Crippling compensation

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and occupied the emirate until US-led forces drove out Iraqi troops during the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq had also launched missile attacks into Saudi territory.

"It is curious to me to have a country whose annual per-capita income GDP is about $800 … pay reparations to countries whose per-capita GDP is a factor of 10 times that ... "

Paul Bremer,
US-occupation administrator
in Iraq

Iraq was subsequently forced to pay compensation for the damage it caused. Under the much-criticised UN oil-for-food programme, a portion of Iraq's oil revenue was set aside to pay reparations.

As living standards in Iraq deteriorated sharply in the 1990s, critics described the multibillion reparations burden as crippling.

But as recently as early 2003, the US was insisting Iraq had to abide by all UN demands, including Resolution 705 (1991) which set up the mechanisms for the payment of reparations.

Revision needed

However, with the US now facing the task of rebuilding Iraq, Washington needs more of Iraq's oil revenue to be spent within the country it occupies. Bremer said the US hoped the issue of reparations would be revised.

"It will be, obviously, something to be raised through diplomatic channels by the Iraqi government, and we certainly would encourage that," Bremer said.

"So I think there needs to be a very serious look at this whole reparations issue. And, by the way, the Governing Council …feels very strongly about that," he said.