The United Nations’ oil-for-food programme in Iraq: Good intentions that went awry?

Publication Type


Year Completed



After the Gulf War of 1991, the UN Security Council imposes economic sanctions on Iraq. To alleviate the crippling effects of the sanctions, the council establishes the Oil-for-Food programme in 1995 - allowing Iraq to sell its oil and use the revenue to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. Later, in 2000, Dileep Nair is appointed head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) at the UN. Nair is responsible for auditing, investigating, evaluating and inspecting UN programmes. He seeks to review the work of OIOS in order to refocus department resources to areas of high risk. A cursory review of UN programmes identifies Oil-for-Food as a major risk in terms of the potential for operational failure and damage to the UN reputation. In the absence of adequate internal resources, Nair aims to institute a full risk analysis of the programme with the help of external consultants. However, this initiative is blocked.

This case study is intended for students of business, international politics and industrial organisational psychology. Students will identify the specific characteristics of international organisations as a working environment, and how they differ from both the private sector and the national public service. This case study helps them to understand the specific challenges associated with the UN bureaucracy. In addition, students must determine the appropriateness of making a "business case" for change, as well as the applicability of business methodology to non-business bureaucracies. Students should come to understand the need to build coalitions to effect change by looking beyond traditional organisational boundaries for support.


Organisational Behaviour and Leadership, International Relations, Intergovernmental Organisations


Industrial and Organizational Psychology | International Relations

Data Source

Field Research


Intergovernment Organisations

Geographic Coverage

United Nations

Temporal Coverage


Education Level

Executive Education; Postgraduate; Undergraduate


Singapore Management University

Case ID



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