- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

For the first time since the U.S.-led coalition destroyed Saddam Hussein's dictatorship in Iraq, as early as today the self-discredited U.N. Security Council will begin to address its role in liberated Iraq. The discussion will center upon the juxtaposition of economic sanctions that the Security Council imposed on Iraq following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the U.N.-devised oil-for-food program implemented in 1996.

With the demise of Saddam's regime, the United States understandably seeks to scrap U.N. sanctions as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, the United States wants to terminate the oil-for-food program, which is scheduled to expire soon. The U.S. plan would replace the oil-for-food program with a major expansion of Iraqi oil exports, whose revenues would help to finance that nation's reconstruction, both economic and political.

In fact, Saddam in many ways circumvented the sanctions. And Russia and France laughed all the way to the bank reaping billions of dollars in profit from the oil-for-food program.

Nothing more clearly confirms Iraq's blatant circumvention of sanctions than Saddam's daily illegal diversion of 200,000 barrels of oil to the neighboring rogue state of Syria even as Syria audaciously used its seat on the Security Council to help thwart the war-authorization resolution.

Regarding the highly profitable roles enjoyed by the United Nations in general and by France and Russia in particular, which were among the top five contractors in the oil-for-food program, Claudia Rosett blew the whistle on this self-serving scheme in Friday's New York Times. Given direct authority to approve Iraq's importation of goods not itemized on a special watch list, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan disproportionately gave the contracts to Saddam's favored trading partners France, Russia and Syria, the latter two of which inexplicably won contracts to supply Japanese vehicles to Iraq.

Meanwhile, the United Nations raked in more than $1 billion from its 2.2 percent "commission" on the more than $50 billion worth of oil Iraq exported under the program. With the Syrian diversion lining Saddam's pockets and massive corruption pervading the oil-for-food program, no wonder Gen. Tommy Franks called it the "oil-for-palace program."

Not surprisingly, both Russia and France, which succeeded in preventing the United States from obtaining a U.N. resolution specifically authorizing the use of force against Iraq, strongly oppose U.S. postwar plans on behalf of the long-suffering Iraqis. When Saddam wielded power, France and Russia had long sought to emasculate the economic sanctions. In return, Saddam rewarded them with huge oil-exploration contracts and other profitable trade benefits.

Their successful effort to deny a war-authorization resolution was nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to keep Saddam in power. But they failed to stop the U.S.-led coalition from deposing Saddam. Having effectively disqualified themselves from substantively participating in the initial stages of Iraq's reconstruction, France and Russia are now desperately seeking to exercise power over postwar Iraq by retaining the no-longer-needed oil-for-food program. Knowing that retention of some form of both the sanctions regime and the oil-for-food program is the United Nations' only leverage to play a major role in postwar Iraq, Mr. Annan will not want to relinquish it.

Our advice on shutting down the oil-for-food program remains the same as yesterday's call for action regarding the elimination of sanctions: Damn the blackmailers, Mr. President, full speed ahead.

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