- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

An Iraqi-born real estate developer in Michigan with ties to Saddam Hussein has donated several thousand dollars to Democratic candidates since 1996 to gain political support to end sanctions on his homeland.Shakir al-Khafaji, an American citizen who came to the United States in 1976, has contributed to the campaigns of former U.S. Rep. David Bonior, Rep. John Conyers, Sen. Carl Levin — all Michigan Democrats — and the Clinton/Gore 1996 Primary Committee.The 48-year-old, in an interview with The Washington Times, said he is well-acquainted with Saddam loyalists: “I know everybody in the regime, and they respected me a lot, but at the same time, I was not an advocate of that regime at any time.”He said he met Saddam once, in 1981, to discuss the fate of his younger brother, who was jailed for political activities. “He lied to me then; he told me my brother would go free after the Iran-Iraq war,” Mr. al-Khafaji said.Last fall, Mr. al-Khafaji also donated $5,000 to the legal defense fund of Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, to defend Mr. McDermott against a lawsuit filed by Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner.Mr. Boehner has accused Mr. McDermott of leaking the transcript of a cell-phone conversation between Mr. Boehner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to the media in 1998.Mr. McDermott has cited the First Amendment in his defense. The case is pending.Mr. McDermott, an eight-term congressman from Seattle, was widely castigated for a prewar trip to Baghdad and Basra, along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson of California and Mr. Bonior.”I think the president would mislead the American people,” Mr. McDermott said in an interview during the September visit, referring to the pending military action.Accepting money from Mr. al-Khafaji, though, had no influence on his views, said Jan Shinpoch, Mr. McDermott’s chief of staff.”[Mr. al-Khafaji] is an American,” said Miss Shinpoch, who added that the money would not be returned to the donor. “And I am not aware of any allegiance by him to Saddam Hussein. In fact, he chose to come to this country. My boss has never supported Saddam Hussein and has always identified Saddam as a bad guy.”Returning campaign contributions from a source with questioned connections is typically a judgment only a candidate can make, said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.In Mr. McDermott’s case, it is somewhat different, Mr. Noble said, because the money did not go to a campaign.”But it is still a matter of whether the candidate, or officeholder, wants to be affiliated with the issue,” Mr. Noble said. “It then becomes an issue of whether it will bring heat and what you can do about it.”Mr. al-Khafaji has said U.S. sanctions on Iraq made Saddam “more powerful” and more able to control the Iraqi people.”If we had lifted the sanctions, the Ba’ath Party would have risen up against him,” Mr. al-Khafaji said.He said the Iraqi government prospered despite the sanctions, selling oil on the black market while using the U.S. policy as an excuse for the country’s poverty. Mr. al-Khafaji said he is a Shi’ite Muslim. Iraq’s Shi’ite majority was violently oppressed by Saddam’s Sunni regime.”If you support a congressman who advocates Israeli issues, does that mean you are supporting [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon?” Mr. al-Khafaji posed. “I don’t think so … so why would supporting the lifting of sanctions be supporting Saddam?”Mr. al-Khafaji also managed to trade with Iraq through a third-party country as a managing partner of the Falcon Trading Group, with offices in Baghdad and Cape Town, South Africa.The company, founded in 1993, has helped South African companies manufacture commodities such as powdered milk, detergent, soap and sugar for supply to Iraq. The trade has amounted to as much as $69 million according to the Independent newspaper, based in Cape Town.Mr. al-Khafaji also is chairman of the biennial Iraqi Expatriate Conference, which he said is an opportunity “to discuss issues expatriates have to deal with in relation to Saddam’s government.”

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