- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

The report issued Wednesday by the Independent Inquiry Committee investigating the United Nations oil-for-food scandal presents a powerful case that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his top aides permitted Saddam Hussein and his associates to plunder a program meant to provide desperately needed humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people. Although the committee found no proof that Mr. Annan was aware of his son Kojo’s manipulation of his family connections to secure lucrative and questionable oil-for-food-related contracts, the IIC’s findings about the Kojo connection (in particular, his dubious denials that he lobbied to win the Swiss firm Cotecna an oil-for-food contract) only serve to further tarnish the United Nations and the Annan family.

The IIC was headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. The panel found that beyond the $1 billion Saddam skimmed from the oil-for-program, he managed to smuggle another $10 billion to neighboring countries between 1991 and 2003. Its report makes clear that neither the U.N. Secretariat headed by Mr. Annan nor the U.N. Security Council were ever really in command of the oil-for-food program, which was designed to enable Iraq to sell its oil in order to pay for medicine and food for its people.

From its inception in 1996, Mr. Annan touted the oil-for-food program as a success — an example of how he was reforming U.N. management practices. For example, in a March 2000 report to the Security Council, Mr. Annan boasted about how he was transforming it into a better system for tracking the distribution of goods inside Iraq. But as the IIC report demonstrates, this was false. The program was poorly run and poorly managed from the start. Indeed, as Mr. Annan admitted to committee investigators, giving Saddam Hussein the right to select contractors was a significant design flaw in the program.

Mr. Annan and top aides like Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette did little to exercise oversight. Although Mr. Annan charged Miss Frechette with responsibility for oversight of the oil-for-food program, Miss Frechette claimed to have never seen the memo making her responsible.

The Volcker report notes that by October 2001, Felicity Johnston, the top expert on customs issues in the U.N. Office of the Iraq Program (OIP), which administered the oil-for-food program, became convinced that Saddam’s regime was running a kickback program “left, right and center.” Miss Johnson brought the matter to the attention of her supervisors at OIP, including Benon Sevan (the Annan confidant appointed by the secretary-general to head the OIP) and urged them to take action to stop Saddam’s subversion of the program. She was ignored. “No meaningful action was taken,” the IIC points out. “Instead, in the face of multiple, documented cases of illicit activity, Mr. Sevan refused to disclose material evidence” to the Security Council committee responsible for overseeing Iraqi sanctions.

And as the Volcker report makes clear, that was just the beginning of the Mr. Annan’s disastrous failure; the secretary-general and his colleagues on the 38th floor did an abysmal job in preventing oil smuggling by Saddam, even though “every barrel of oil that Iraq sold through its smuggling network was a barrel that could have generated revenues for use by the United Nations in its humanitarian relief effort.” Although U.N. staff on the ground in the Mideast provided OIP with detailed knowledge of the Iraqi regime’s smuggling operations, Mr. Annan’s U.N. Secretariat “took virtually no corrective steps” and the OIP “failed to aggressively investigate the matter, confront Iraqi officials, or otherwise meaningfully respond to reports of smuggling,” according to the Volcker panel: “Smuggling continued unabated until the termination of the Programme, diverting billions of dollars from the United Nations humanitarian objectives and into the hands of the Iraqi regime.” In its criticism of Mr. Annan and the U.N.’s performance generally, the report goes on in this vein for hundreds of pages.

But Mr. Annan is never lacking for chutzpah. Less than 48 hours before the release of the Volcker report, Mr. Annan declared that the war in Iraq which began in 2003 had turned Iraq into a new hub of terrorism (the secretary-general was apparently unaware of Saddam’s prior support for the Kurdish terror group Ansar al-Islam, Abu Musab Zarqawi or Palestinian suicide bombers, or the existence of a foreign terrorist training center at Salman Pak).

Having harmed the Iraqi people by failing to competently administer the oil-for- food program, Mr. Annan should at least have the decency not to try to attack the United States for overthrowing their tormentor.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide