|Iraq foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, welcoming the UN decision to end key sanctions.[Reuters]|
The UN Security Council on Wednesday ended key international sanctions imposed on Iraq in a move to bring closure to the Saddam Hussein era.
Three council resolutions ended sanctions over weapons of mass destruction and ended the UN oil-for-food program for Iraq.
Iraq will now be able to pursue a civilian nuclear program, in a symbolic step to restore the country to the international standing it held before Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Joe Biden, US vice president, and Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, led praise for the efforts of Iraq’s democratically elected government, while warning that Iraq must make a final peace with neighbouring Kuwait and that the country still has major security challenges.
One resolution passed lifted sanctions imposed in 1991 to stop Iraq building the feared, but never located, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons used to justify the US-led invasion in 2003.
A second resolution formally ended the oil-for-food program which allowed the late Iraqi dictator to use billions of dollars of oil money to buy food and medicine between 1996 and 2003.
A third resolution extended UN protection by six months for hundreds of millions of dollars in the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), which was set up after the 2003 war to handle oil and other revenues.
The council also voted to return control of Iraq’s oil and natural gas revenue to the government on June 30, 2011.
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from the United Nations, said there were still some provisions in place allowing international military intervention in Iraq.
“There is also the possibility – with the [civilian] nuclear technology – of a one-year review that has international inspectors come in,” our correspondent said.
While the votes concentrated on weapons of mass destruction and the oil-for-food program, the meeting was intended by the United States as a symbolic recognition of the political changes in Iraq.
Biden told the meeting the Iraqi people have “flatly rejected the grim future offered by extremists”.
He said the number of violent attacks was now at a low since the US-led invasion in 2003.
“Iraq is on the cusp of something remarkable – a stable, self-reliant nation,” Biden said.
A Security Council statement welcomed changes in Iraq and “recognises that the situation now existing in Iraq is significantly different from that which existed at the time of the adoption of resolution 661” in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
But the UN leader stressed that Iraq must make efforts to agree a border with Kuwait and to agree on a dispute over war reparations to Iraq if all sanctions are to be ended.
Iraq still pays five per cent of revenues from its oil sales into a fund which pays reparations to Kuwait, which has demanded that Iraq pay another $22bn.
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, said normalisation with Kuwait would “top the agenda” of the new Iraqi government.
While recognising the changes, Ban said that “Iraq remains a challenging environment” which will need political and financial support, particularly after the departure of remaining US troops in 2011.
“You have suffered too much for too long, I pay tribute to your resilience,” Ban said in a message to the Iraqi people.
The meeting started with a minute’s silence for US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, architect of the Daytona peace accords to end the Balkan wars of the 1990s, who died this week. Biden called him “one of America’s greatest warriors for peace”.