- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Despite Saddam Hussein’s atrocious record as leader of Iraq, his regime was often successful in obtaining favorable foreign media coverage of hot-button issues, particularly those related to international sanctions. With every passing day, more information comes out showing how Baghdad used the foreign media and politicians as conduits for propaganda. The most publicized story is that of George Galloway, a left-wing British MP who was paid more than $10 million to propagandize on behalf of Iraq, according to a letter discovered by the London Daily Telegraph in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry last week. It is just one example of how Saddam’s regime succeeded in getting its message across in Europe and the Arab world. It hardly comes as a surprise to experienced observers that politicians and the press in Europe and the Arab world were susceptible to Saddam’s blandishments; unlike American news outlets, for whom accepting money from a foreign power is the proverbial kiss of death, the foreign media have long been willing to look the other way while money changes hands. Even so, the continuing revelations of how Saddam manipulated public opinion outside Iraq doubtlessly will be a revelation to most people. Upon taking power in 1979, Saddam embarked upon an aggressive campaign to bribe journalists, businessmen, politicians and diplomats to support his regime. Throughout the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, he provided lavish gifts to Arab leaders in exchange for their support. Just before his August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, he shipped 100 new Mercedes cars to top editors in Egypt and Jordan. The process continued after the 1991 Gulf War — as Saddam continued his efforts to weaken international sanctions. Some of the postwar payoffs “were straightforward cash payments, often in U.S. dollars, handed out from Iraqi embassies in Arab capitals,” Steven F. Hayes writes in the Weekly Standard. “Other transactions were surreptitious or deliberately complex — coveted Iraqi export licenses for family members of politicians, oil kickbacks through third parties, elaborate ‘scholarship’ arrangements.” Saddam’s money also may have made it into the United States, Mr. Hayes reports. One prominent American friend of the dictator was Shakir al-Khafaji, an Iraqi-American businessman from Detroit, who has served as president of regime-backed Expatriate Conferences held in Baghdad every two years. According to an account of the 2000 conference, Mr. al-Khafaji and then-Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz railed against sanctions. The official conference Web site accused the United States of engaging in “terrorism and genocide” in Iraq. Baghdad provided subsidized travel to allow persons outside the country to attend the conference. Mr. al-Khafaji (who runs a trading company out of South Africa that has done nearly $70 million in business with Saddam over the past decade) gave former weapons inspector Scott Ritter $400,000 to produce a film blasting Washington’s role in the inspections process, and accompanied Rep. Jim McDermott and two other House Democrats critical of sanctions to Iraq last year. Upon his return to the United States, Mr. McDermott declared that President Bush would “lie to the American people” to get this country into a war with Iraq. Less than a month after uttering the slur, Mr. McDermott received $5,000 from Mr. al-Khafaji for his legal defense fund.In the wake of Saddam’s fall from power, we are likely to be learning more and more about who in this country received money from him and what Baghdad expected in return. As more information comes out about the money trail from Baghdad, many people in the West will face many a sleepless night.

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