Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Oily Hands 

Josh Marshall notes that serial prevaricator Judith Miller of the NYT has a new beat -- covering scandal and corruption at the U.N. While we are naturally pleased to see Ms. Miller reassigned to an arena in which her shoddy reportage will be relatively unlikely to result in the deaths of American troops, we must admit we were secretly hoping -- especially after reading the following item, recommended to us by our esteemed colleague Patrick of The Samuel Taylor Coleridge Foundation -- that George Monbiot would get the gig:
The Republican senators who have devoted their careers to mauling the United Nations are seldom accused of shyness. But they went strangely quiet on Thursday. Henry Hyde became Henry Jekyll. Norm Coleman's mustard turned to honey. Convinced that the UN is a conspiracy against the sovereignty of the United States, they had been ready to launch the attack which would have toppled the hated Kofi Annan and destroyed his organisation. A report by Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US federal reserve, was meant to have proved that, as a result of corruption within the UN's oil-for-food programme, Saddam Hussein was able to sustain his regime by diverting oil revenues into his own hands. But Volcker came up with something else.

"The major source of external financial resources to the Iraqi regime," he reported, "resulted from sanctions violations outside the [oil-for-food] programme's framework." These violations consisted of "illicit sales" of oil by the Iraqi regime to Turkey and Jordan. The members of the UN security council, including the United States, knew about them but did nothing. "United States law requires that assistance programmes to countries in violation of UN sanctions be ended unless continuation is determined to be in the national interest. Such determinations were provided by successive United States administrations."

The government of the US, in other words, though it had been informed about a smuggling operation which brought Saddam Hussein's regime some $4.6bn, decided to let it continue. It did so because it deemed the smuggling to be in its national interest, as it helped friendly countries (Turkey and Jordan) evade the sanctions on Iraq. The biggest source of illegal funds to Saddam Hussein was approved not by officials of the UN but by officials in the US. Strange to relate, neither Mr Hyde nor Mr Coleman have yet been bellyaching about it. But this isn't the half of it . . . .

Four days before Volcker reported his findings about Saddam Hussein, the US inspector general for Iraq reconstruction published a report about the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) - the US agency which governed Iraq between April 2003 and June 2004. The inspector general's job is to make sure that the money the authority spent was properly accounted for. It wasn't. In just 14 months, $8.8bn went absent without leave. This is more than Mobutu Sese Seko managed to steal in 32 years of looting Zaire. It is 55,000 times as much as Mr Sevan is alleged to have been paid . . . .

Last week a British adviser to the Iraqi Governing Council told the BBC's File on Four programme that officials in the CPA were demanding bribes of up to $300,000 in return for awarding contracts. Iraqi money seized by US forces simply disappeared. Some $800m was handed out to US commanders without being counted or even weighed. A further $1.4bn was flown from Baghdad to the Kurdish regional government in the town of Irbil, and has not been seen since.

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