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Iraq's Neighbours To Get Little For Environment Loss

Iraq s Neighbours To Get Little For Environment Loss
GENEVA - Iraq's neighbours want tens of billions of dollars for environmental damage done in the 1990-1 Gulf conflict, but are set to get only paltry funds from the United Nations, diplomats and UN sources said on Friday.

The UN Compensation Commission's Governing Council will review $23 billion in claims next week -- the largest chunk to date of a total $87 billion sought for environmental losses from Iraq's August 1990 invasion and seven-month occupation of Kuwait.

But the 15-member body, which starts three-day talks on Tuesday, is likely to endorse recommendations of independent experts who rejected the bulk of the $23 billion in claims, according to diplomats and UN sources.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, who have claims of $11 billion and $7.5 billion on the table this time, stand to be the most disappointed of six regional claimants which also include Iran, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, they added.

A diplomat from a claimant country, who spoke on condition of not being identified, told Reuters: "We understand the amount recommended will be very small compared to what was requested."

"It will be peanuts," a UN source told Reuters.

Iraqi troops set oil wells on fire and spilled millions of litres (gallons) of crude oil in waterways, leaving oil lakes in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and causing coastal, marine and desert damage in the region.

Iraq's interim government last September accused its neighbours of lodging "astronomical" claims for environmental damage and called for rejecting at least $49 billion of it.

A senior delegation from Iraq's foreign affairs ministry and justice ministry is to address next week's quarterly UNCC talks.

Michael Schneider, a Geneva lawyer representing Iraq, said that Iraq would press the need to monitor the use of any funds awarded to states for environmental remediation projects.

"You can't give blindly to these governments, there must be some mechanism that supervises expenditures in the future," he told Reuters.


The UNCC, set up by the Security Council, has received claims totalling a staggering $350 billion from individuals, companies and governments for losses due to Iraq's invasion.

The Governing Council, which has resolved $277.7 billion worth of claims so far, has approved compensation of $48.9 billion. Nearly $18.8 billion has been paid out, but UNCC officials say it will take years to pay out all claims.

Five percent of Iraqi oil revenues flow into the coffers of the Geneva-based UNCC, after the Security Council steadily reduced its percentage from 30 percent in recent years. UNCC is currently making quarterly payments of $200 million to claimants.

Independent experts who reviewed the environmental claims -- the last big category to be dealt with -- spent months examining evidence from all sides before making their recommendations.

"To the dismay of some of these governments, they will find that they are just not getting what they thought. It is not political, but scientific, and the merits are not there to support high payments," a Western diplomat told Reuters.

Story by Stephanie Nebehay

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