- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2005

NEW YORK — Charging that the United Nations is treating various Iraqi accounts as a source of “easy money,” Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie said his country is trying to recover money deposited in various U.N.-administered accounts and reduce payments to others.

In Geneva, Iraqi diplomats are trying to win support for a plan to reduce their payments to a fund that administers reparations for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

And in New York, the Iraqis are protesting the use of their hard currency to pay for an investigation into mismanagement of the oil-for-food program — which was itself financed with billions in oil exports.

Baghdad is also getting impatient with the $1 million a month spent on the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC, the office that was created to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found, either by international inspectors or U.S. occupation forces.

“Iraq now is in great need for every dollar to rebuild itself,” said Mr. Sumaidaie. “It was ruined systematically over decades of misrule. We need it more than anybody else.”

He said that he has been trying for months to get a full accounting of how much Iraqi money is in various accounts, but still hasn’t anything definitive.

Aging infrastructure and sabotage have slashed Iraqi oil exports from prewar levels. However, the steep $60-a-barrel prices partially compensate for small exports.

Before the March 2003 invasion, Iraq exported 2.1 million barrels of oil a day.

Five percent of all oil sales is diverted to the U.N. Compensation Commission, which has just finished consideration of more than 2.6 million claims against the former regime for loss, damages and death.

Of those claims, $52.5 billion has been approved, but only $19 billion has been paid out so far.

At this rate, it will take years — or even decades — to make good on those awards, acknowledges Compensation Commission spokesman Joe Sills, unless Iraq reaches bilateral agreements with its neighbors.

The money, the government says, would be better spent on reconstruction and investment, rather than weapons inspectors and reparations for Kuwaiti business owners.

But changing the rules won’t be easy.

There are scores of Security Council resolutions pertaining to the collection and use of Iraq’s oil proceeds, and only the council can alter those mandates.

The council readily agreed — over Baghdad’s protests — to spend $30 million last year to fund a U.N.-authorized inquiry into possible fraud and mismanagement of the oil-for-food program.

This week, Independent Inquiry Committee Chairman Paul Volcker is expected to ask the council for another $3 million to $4 million, a request that will likely be granted over Iraq’s complaints.

The inquiry commission’s money comes from an account set aside to administer the nearly $70 billion program — money that has also been earmarked to settle damages and costs related to the tragic bombing of the U.N. compound in Iraq two years ago.

“Unfortunately, over the past decade or so, since those compensation schemes were put in place, huge sums have been paid without regard to Iraqi interest and without scrutiny,” Mr. Sumaidaie told The Washington Times.

“It was treated like a slush fund, frankly, and a lot of dubious private-sector entrepreneurs thought this was a good way to get on the gravy train. We have tried to stop this. We are making progress, but so far … the claims keep coming.”

The new Iraqi government says it has renounced weapons of mass destruction and has no interest in acquiring any. That is why it wants to see the council shut down UNMOVIC, whose 47 professional staffers are costing about $1 million a year.

Although Iraq no longer pays into the UMMOVIC account, more than $345 million had accumulated by this year.

Even after returned $200 million to the Development Fund for Iraq last month, there is still enough in the UNMOVIC account to keep the program going for another decade.

“We have been lobbying to close the files and be rid of it,” said Mr. Sumaidaie. “We just don’t see any justification for such a large bureaucracy to be supported in perpetuity on Iraqi money to do absolutely nothing. They go to courses and keep looking at photos. The reality has moved on.”

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