- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

A former official of a Michigan-based Islamic charity has been arrested by federal agents on charges of organizing a political junket to Iraq for three members of Congress financed by Saddam Hussein, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday in Detroit.

Muthanna al-Hanooti, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Iraq, is accused of arranging the October 2002 trip for spy agency Iraqi Intelligence Service and delivering “information” to the IIS about the lawmakers, the indictment said.

The 14-page indictment does not identify the congressmen, but the dates correspond to a trip taken by Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David E. Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California.

“None of the congressional representatives are accused of any wrongdoing, and we have no information whatsoever that any of them were aware of the involvement of the Iraqi Intelligence Service,” said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.

A spokesman for Mr. McDermott, Michael DeCesare, yesterday said the trip had been billed as an opportunity to “see the plight of the Iraqi children.” He said Mr. McDermott was invited by a Seattle church group and was unaware of any other funding.

The trip took place in the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. At the time, the Iraqi government was looking for U.S. sanctions against the country to be lifted and the Bush administration was trying to persuade Congress to authorize military action against Iraq.

Mr. McDermott and Mr. Bonior, who no longer serves in Congress, were criticized after the trip by Republicans for several statements they made, prompting then-Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, to say at the time that Mr. Bonior and Mr. McDermott “sound like spokespersons for the Iraqi government.”

In exchange for Mr. al-Hanooti’s services, the indictment said, the Iraqi minister of petroleum delivered 2 million barrels of oil to Mr. al-Hanooti in connection with the oil-for-food program.

Mr. al-Hanooti, the public relations coordinator for Life for Relief and Development, a Muslim charity based in Southfield, Mich., was arrested Tuesday night and is charged with one count of conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Iraqi government and three counts of making false statements.

The charity was raided by federal agents in September 2006.

According to the indictment, Mr. al-Hanooti traveled to Iraq with the congressmen and later met with IIS agents, to whom he delivered information about the lawmakers. What specifically Mr. al-Hanooti told the IIS is not listed in the indictment.

The indictment also said Mr. al-Hanooti received “instructions” from the IIS and provided the agency a list of members of Congress whom he believed favored lifting the sanctions. It said he also gave the IIS a written strategy on “how to obtain the lifting” of the sanctions and was told to “coordinate a delegation to Iraq to include members” of Congress.

The oil-for-food program was a seven-year, $64 billion U.N. effort to sell Iraq’s oil and buy food and essential goods to alleviate civilian suffering caused by international economic sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The sanctions remained in place, with modifications, until the government was overthrown by U.S.-led coalition forces in 2003.

Over time, companies were required to give kickbacks to Iraq to win contracts to sell merchandise or buy oil and the program ended.

Mr. al-Hanooti had his initial court appearance yesterday and was released on $100,000 bond.

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