Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 176

The Russian government, meanwhile, has been feeling some heat in recent months from Iraqi authorities, who are urging Moscow to step up efforts aimed at winning a lifting of sanctions. In remarks to reporters yesterday, Baghdad’s ambassador to Russia, Hassan Fahmi Jumah, appeared to chide Moscow for not doing enough on Iraq’s behalf. He said that the Iraqi leadership would prefer that Moscow not limit itself to “declarations” on the need for a lifting of sanctions. He also charged that, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Moscow shares some responsibility for the maintenance of the international embargo on Iraq (Russian agencies, September 23).

The Iraqi diplomat’s comments yesterday were reminiscent, to some degree, of an incident which occurred in June of this year. At that time, Iraq’s oil minister unexpectedly gave the Russian oil giant LUKoil (and the Chinese National Petroleum Company) a deadline of a “few weeks” to begin developing oil fields in Iraq under contracts signed in 1997. Any such action would have put LUKoil in violation of UN sanctions against Iraq. Baghdad’s threat to cancel the contracts appeared designed to force Moscow’s hand in just that way. In the end, the two countries managed to resolve their differences. But an Iraqi government official nevertheless warned anew on June 29 that it is of “paramount importance” that Moscow translate its promises of help for Baghdad into reality. He suggested further that the oil development contracts with LUKoil could still be canceled if Moscow fails to work more effectively on Iraq’s behalf (see the Monitor, July 1).

Moscow has invested a great deal of diplomatic capital in its support for Iraq, and is undoubtedly counting on some long-term rewards for its efforts. Those include a reestablishment of Russian influence in the Persian Gulf and–more pragmatically–the fulfillment of billions of dollars’ worth of contracts signed by Russian companies with the Iraqi government. In addition, Baghdad owes Russia some US$7 billion in Soviet-era debts, money which Moscow sees itself recovering only after sanctions on Iraq are lifted.

The promise of such rewards has also given Baghdad some leverage over Russia, and Iraqi authorities appear willing to use that leverage to pressure Moscow into defying international sanctions on Iraq if they are not lifted by the UN Security Council. The issue could also resonate in Russia’s upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. There are forces in Russia which have consistently urged the Kremlin to renounce the international sanctions on Iraq and to restore political and economic ties to Baghdad. That sort of sentiment could become a campaign issue, particularly if the Security Council’s deadlock over Iraq is not resolved, the sanctions are maintained, and U.S. and British aircraft continue their operations in Iraq’s “no-fly zones.” Those policies are not popular among Russia’s political elite, and could fuel calls for a change in Russia’s compliance of the UN sanctions on Iraq.