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UN lifts Saddam-era sanctions on Iraq, ending a dark chapter

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At times, the meeting seemed almost like a polite coming-out party for a new nation. With the US holding the council's rotating chairmanship, Biden, who is the Obama administration's point man on Iraq, looked buoyant as he read out the votes. After each tally, the normally dour chamber filled with applause.

The vote came just days before Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is expected to end a nine-month deadlock and form a new coalition government that includes all of Iraq's major factions. Violence is at its lowest levels since the 2003 US invasion to topple Saddam, although Iraqis, and particularly a dwindling community of Christians, continue to be targeted for attacks based on their religious faith.

Iraqi officials said that Wednesday's decision marked "the beginning of the end" of a severe sanctions regime imposed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

"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."

Obligations to Kuwait remain, however

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 Saddam briefly occupied before being ousted by US-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 some $130 billion in lost oil production, of which about $25 billion remains to be paid.

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