As evidence of scandal mounts in the U.N. Oil for Food program, there are growing questions as to whether Saddam Hussein may have directed program revenues to terrorist organizations. What is known thus far is that Saddam had a lengthy record of support for terrorism, and that there has been no accounting for billions of dollars in revenues raised during the program’s seven years of operation. In testimony Wednesday before the House International Relations Committee, Claudia Rosett, a journalist and scholar who has carefully studied the program, said that more investigation is needed into how Oil for Food revenues were spent. She is absolutely right.
There is certainly ample reason to suspect that at least some of the money may have found its way to terrorist groups. Saddam’s financing of Palestinian suicide bombers is well-known, as is the fact that he harbored a rogue’s gallery of terrorists, including Abu Nidal and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist believed to be involved in the insurgent campaign to destroy Iraq’s transition to democracy. Documents found in Saddam’s Oil Ministry in Baghdad show that Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, a longtime ally of Saddam, was profiting from Oil for Food money — funds meant to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people under international sanctions.
But, as Ms. Rosett indicated in her testimony, this may be just the tip of the iceberg. In June, the Forward, a national Jewish weekly, ran a story detailing the ties between an international banking network that has been linked by the Bush administration to al Qaeda and a Saudi oil firm linked with the deposed Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Among Saddam’s oil customers after 1997 was a Liechenstein-based company called Galp International Trading Establishment. Galp chose as its legal representative in Liechenstein a company called Asat Trust — designated by the United States and the United Nations itself as a financier of al Qaeda through its ties with Al Taqwa — a multinational web of financial entities controlled by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (a parent organization of the terrorist group Hamas).
These and other aspects of the burgeoning Oil for Food scandal cry out for a serious investigation. But, unfortunately, the United Nations continues to stonewall. General Accounting Office investigators told the committee on Wednesday that U.N. officials had refused to release information from internal audits.
What’s needed now is a campaign to mobilize pressure on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — whose own performance is very much at issue here — to come clean and release the information. Unfortunately, the behavior of some committee Democrats, among them Reps. Tom Lantos, Howard Berman and Gary Ackerman, who suggested that hearings were part of a misguided effort to discredit the United Nations — may encourage the United Nations to continue its obduracy. That would be a disaster for Mr. Annan and the United Nations.