Iraq war opponents fill oil-for-food ‘vouchers’ list

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A score of giant Russian oil firms, several Kremlin ministries and even the Russian Orthodox Church are listed as having received the vouchers. The church and many of the companies in question have denied wrongdoing.

Just 10 French organizations and officials are on the oil-for-food list, but they include a top adviser to President Jacques Chirac and France’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1999.

French denials of wrongdoing in the scandal have been particularly heated.

Jean-David Levitte, France’s ambassador to the United States, rejects the idea that there was an oil-for-food “scandal” and has blamed conservative critics of France and the United Nations for publicizing the list.

In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News last month, he noted that the United States imported far more oil from Iraq than France during the sanction years and that the United States had the right to review every contract approved under the oil-for-food program.

“It is important to understand that nothing regarding Iraq could have been done without the approval of the United States,” he argued.

Several questions surround the list.

It is not clear, for example, whether those named actually received the secret vouchers or were simply targeted for bribery. And oil companies that received the vouchers might not have profited directly, but kicked back the money to Saddam and his allies as one more price of doing business with a corrupt regime.

Pro-Iraqi activists in the United States, Britain and other countries that backed the war also showed up on the list.

Antiwar British legislator George Galloway, who already has pressed one successful suit against press charges that he was bribed by Saddam, denied obtaining the vouchers good for 19 million barrels of oil he reportedly was given.

“In my own case, I have never owned, bought or sold oil, or rights to oil, nor has anyone on my behalf,” Mr. Galloway wrote in the London Guardian, accusing the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmed Chalabi and Republicans in U.S. Congress of pushing false stories.

Mr. Fawcett said the extraordinary range of suspected recipients showed the breadth of Saddam’s corruption and his willingness to work with — and pay off — anyone who could advance his cause.

The voucher list includes sympathetic Arab journalists; leading Palestinian militant groups; Communist parties in Russia, Belarus and Slovakia; an adviser to Pope John Paul II; and recipients from 52 countries ranging from Algeria and Austria to Yemen and Yugoslavia.

“One big thing about this list is that it gives the lie to the argument that Saddam was a secular leader who wouldn’t work with fundamentalist terrorists like al Qaeda,” said Mr. Fawcett.

“Saddam would work with anybody he thought could help him.”

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