At a special session chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, the United Nations Security Council voted Tuesday to end the Saddam-era sanctions on Iraq, as well as the remnants of the Oil-for-Food program. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was there, as well as Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. In the way of such meetings, there was plenty of speechifying, with each of the five permanent and 10 rotating members delivering orations on the occasion. There were congratulations to the Iraqis on how far they’ve come, as well as advice, prescriptions, and urgings about stability, security, the Iraqi people, “the region, and the international community.”
Notably missing was even a single word of apology for UN complicity in the massive corruption of Oil-for-Food. You remember Oil-for-Food — the 1996-2003 relief program in which the UN took on the job of overseeing all oil sales of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and promised all proceeds would be supervised by the UN to ensure the money was spent on humanitarian aid for the people of Iraq. What came of this setup, in which the UN oversaw more than $110 billion worth of Iraqi oil and relief deals, was a bonanza of billions in kickbacks and illicit fees paid to Saddam’s regime, under cover of thousands of UN-approved contracts. Those illicit billions were skimmed out of oil revenues that were supposed to help the people of Iraq. This dirty business helped fortify Saddam’s murderous regime, and padded the pockets of a great many of his business partners.
Plenty of blame goes to the UN Secretariat, run during all but the first month of Oil-for-Food by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan — whose hand-picked head of the program, Benon Sevan, was later alleged by a UN-authorized inquiry to have “corruptly” derived “personal pecuniary benefit from the Oil-for-Food Programme” via “cash proceeds” from lucrative Oil-for-Food contracts. The UN-authorized inquiry, led by Paul Volcker, devoted hundreds of pages to the mismanagement, derelictions and abuses that went on in the Secretariat, which had the hands-on responsibility for dealing with most of Oil-for-Food’s dirty details.
But the Security Council, which doubled as the Iraq sanctions committee, also bears plenty of blame. The Security Council authorized the program, approved contracts and — as we now know, after many post-mortem investigations and congressional hearings — had its own internal wrangles, in which the U.K. and U.S. made private protests over the obvious corruption, but failed to stop the fiesta of graft — in which Saddam was ordering up such stuff as milk from Russian oil companies and Chinese weapons manufacturers.