BAGHDAD — Iraq closed another chapter on the Saddam Hussein era Wednesday when the United Nations Security Council lifted most of the sanctions that it had imposed after the late former dictator's invasion of Kuwait 20 years ago.
With Vice President Joe Biden serving as chairman, the council voted unanimously to lift restrictions aimed at stopping Iraq from acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The Security Council also formally ended a notoriously mismanaged oil-for-food aid scheme that Hussein's regime had used to steal billions of dollars meant to help Iraqis survive the sanctions.
The moves were largely symbolic: Iraq is signatory to the main international nonproliferation treaties and its constitution bars it from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, while the oil-for-food program has been defunct for years.
The vote came just days before Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is expected to form a new coalition government that includes all of Iraq's major factions. Violence is at its lowest levels since the 2003 U.S. invasion to topple Hussein, although Iraqis, and particularly a dwindling community of Christians, continue to be targeted for attacks based on their religious faith.
"I'm personally very, very delighted," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said afterward. "We are overwhelmed by this support, and I think this shows Iraq is coming back, truly, to its rightful place among the community of nations."
Even with a new government coming in, Iraqi officials acknowledge that they're a long way from concluding their obligations to Kuwait, the tiny, oil-rich neighbor that Hussein briefly occupied before being ousted by U.S.-led forces in the 1991 Gulf War.
Under the sanctions, 5 percent of Iraq's oil and gas revenue is set aside into a fund to compensate Kuwait for damages, including $130 billion in lost oil production, of which about $25 billion remains to be paid.