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Food Not Bombs

The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to overhaul its economic sanctions against Iraq. The overhaul is meant to ease the pain of Iraqi civilians while keeping the pressure on Saddam Hussein.

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He still can't import weapons, but everyday Iraqis will have an easier time of it.

The new sanctions system, which takes effect in July, will allow for far more consumer goods to enter the country than could previously. That means bicycles and sewing machines will now be allowed in. Military goods are still banned outright.

Tuesday’s overhaul is the most sweeping change in the sanctions since the UN began its "oil for food" program in 1996. That plan allows Iraq to sell oil to purchase food, medicines and other non-military goods.

Demonstration in Baghdad

The 12-year-old sanctions, in place since the Gulf War, have often been criticized as hurting Iraqi’s civilian population more than helping drive the country’s leader, Saddam Hussein, from power.

A 300-page list of "dual use" items – those that could possibly have military application - has now been drawn up. It includes goods ranging from trucks to telecommunications equipment which would need review before being released for import into Iraq.

The resolution renews of the "oil for food" plan for another six months and could release some of the $5.2 billion worth of deals that Iraq has ordered but the US has put on hold.

But Iraq's ambassador to the UN, Mohammed Aldouri, did not greet the resolution enthusiastically.

"We see the American political goals in this exercise," he said. "This is a new harassment on the Iraqi people."

But Iraqi oil is still flowing as of Wednesday and there are no signs that the country will halt exports as it did from April 8 to May 8 in response to Israel's incursions into the West Bank.

An Iraqi oil official told Reuters his government was still weighing its reponse to the sanctions overhaul and whether it would proceed with oil exports after May 30th, when a new phase of the "oil for food" program begins.

Victory for the US

The vote is being seen largely as a victory for the United States and its allies. It is intended to blunt the drive to end the sanctions all together, something which Russia, Iraq's most vocal ally on the Council, would like to see.

The resolution comes only after months of negotiations between Washington and Moscow.

"The focused controls on military-relevant goods and simplified procedures for civilian goods eliminates excuses for inaction or evasion of UN sanctions," the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, told reporters.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer lent his support to the sanctions overhaul, saying the resolution demonstrates a "political concensus not to allow Iraq to move forward with the production and spread of weapons of mass destruction."

"Get Rid" of Him

Analysts say the resolution seems part of a diplomatic move by the US to press its case that Hussein should be removed from power.

Blair vor der Wiederwahl

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to forego diplomacy altogether on Wednesday in an interview with the BBC.

"I certainly endorse the policy of doing everything we can to get rid of Saddam Hussein if at all possible," he said, although he declined to say whether he would back an military effort to oust the Iraqi dictator.

Blair added he could change his views if Hussein allowed weapons inspectors back in the country.

"But there is absolutely no sign that he's prepared to do so," Blair said.

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