WASHINGTON -- The food embargo against Iraq seems on the verge of collapse, but, several analysts say, it was never a crucial element of the overall blockade and it was always doomed to fail.
From the outset, a contradiction plagued the United Nations Security Council resolution applying sanctions against Iraq: Food was among the items forbidden to be sent to Iraq, but a safety clause in the resolution allowed food to be supplied under "humanitarian circumstances."
In other words, if the food embargo were proving too effective, it would be suspended.
That being the case, some analysts are wondering why food was prohibited at all.
"It always seemed to me that it is very unlikely that an organization like the United Nations would try to starve a nation to death," said Gary Sick, a former National Security Council official who specializes in Persian Gulf issues.
In recent days, the leaders of China, Iran, India and other nations have appealed to the United Nations to invoke the "humanitarian" clause to allow them to send food.
The Security Council formed a sanctions committee to consider the matter. It met yesterday to draft a note, asking Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to send an emissary into Iraq to assess the food situation.
In any case, some U.S. officials are resigned to the prospect that food will continue to leak into Iraq.
But analysts say the food embargo was, at most, a secondary aspect of the blockade against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
"The place that really pinches Saddam," said Sick, "is that he can't sell any oil, he can't earn money, he can't go on with his ambitious development plans. He can't even -- and this is a point that isn't stated enough, I think -- he can't even start any military operation. Every weapon or spare part that he uses up is irreplaceable. That's the important thing."