- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

Critics of President Bush make the specious assertion that he went to war two years ago not because Saddam Hussein was a mass murderer and an international menace but because the administration was beholden to firms like Halliburton. These same critics — who are so eager to libel Mr. Bush — are understandably reluctant to talk about a genuine multibillion-dollar scandal regarding the war: the oil-for-food scandal, presided over by the United Nations.

Two reports issued during the past week provide further documentation about how Saddam Hussein used the oil-for-food program, which was supposed to help the Iraqi people, in order to enrich politicians and businessmen who opposed taking action against his regime. One of the reports also alleges that Hans von Sponeck (who served as U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq from 1998 to 2000, when he resigned to protest the damage he said was being caused by sanctions) made money from the program. Mr. von Sponeck solicited financial contributions for his anti-sanctions work from firms that were attempting to win business deals with Saddam’s government, according to the Independent Inquiry Committee headed by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, which issued its final report on Thursday.

Much of the information comes from former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who used promises of lucrative oil contracts to win international backing for a soft stance against the Ba’athist regime.

According to a report issued one week ago by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations, chaired by Sen. Norm Coleman, George Galloway, a member of the British Parliament; Amineh Abu Zayyad, his now-estranged wife; and a charity Mr. Galloway ran received nearly $600,000 from secret oil deals under the oil-for-food program. Mr. Galloway flatly denied these charges at a May 17 hearing held by the Coleman panel. The Volcker report described another previously undisclosed payment of $120,000 thought to have been paid to Mr. Galloway’s wife from an oil-for-food contractor. Mr. Coleman and Senate aides have suggested that Mr. Galloway could face charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice.

But the Galloway revelations are just a small part of the new, detailed information made public in the past week about who may have benefited from the oil-for-food program (while Iraqi people not connected with Saddam’s regime saw their living conditions deteriorate). According to the Volcker committee, by 2000, “gatekeepers of the program, the Secretariat, the Security Council and the U.N. contractors failed most grievously in their responsibilities to monitor the integrity of the program.”

Some of the major findings of the Volcker panel include:

Saddam Hussein received almost $2 billion in profits from the program.

More than 2,250 firms from 66 nations made illegal payments to Iraq in exchange for lucrative preferential treatment. France, Russia and China — Security Council members who attempted to weaken sanctions and blocked the council from seriously considering military action against Iraq in 2003 — were among the biggest winners. Saddam’s government awarded Russia $19 billion in oil contracts and France more than $4 billion.

Among the companies suspected of paying kickbacks to Saddam are DaimlerChrysler AG, Siemens AG and Volvo’s construction vehicle unit.

Prominent individuals benefiting from the oil-for-food largesse included former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, an ally of President Jacques Chirac; fugitive American financier Marc Rich (who was pardoned by President Clinton right before he left office in January 2001); and Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken defender of Saddam. Rev. Jean-Marie Benjamin, a Vatican priest who lobbied against sanctions, received $140,000 from a French oil importer.

In one instance, Mr. Aziz (who is awaiting trial along with Saddam and other ex-senior officials) personally arranged to reward an Italian politician who had been an outspoken critic of sanctions with 27 million barrels of oil.

BNP Paribas, the French bank that managed oil-for-food escrow accounts and lines of credit, failed to adequately scrutinize the accounts and did not cooperate fully with investigators.

The bottom line in Mr. Volcker’s report is that Saddam Hussein succeeded in using the oil-for-food program to make it lucrative for some to do the bidding of the Ba’athists. The report demonstrates that by 2003 the integrity of the Security Council had been so compromised that it would never have given serious consideration to using force against Iraq. That’s a painful reality that the most strident critics of Mr. Bush still don’t want to confront.

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