February 28, 2004

WORD HAS IT that tomorrow’s New York Times will have an in-depth look at the oil-for-food program and where the money went. That should be interesting.

UPDATE: It’s already on their website now. Excerpt:

Iraq’s sanctions-busting has long been an open secret. Two years ago, the General Accounting Office estimated that oil smuggling had generated nearly $900 million a year for Iraq. Oil companies had complained that Iraq was squeezing them for illegal surcharges, and Mr. Hussein’s lavish spending on palaces and monuments provided more evidence of his access to unrestricted cash.

But the dimensions of the corruption have only lately become clear, from the newly available documents and from revelations by government officials who say they were too fearful to speak out before. They show the magnitude and organization of the payoff system, the complicity of the companies involved and the way Mr. Hussein bestowed contracts and gifts on those who praised him.

I don’t believe this:

United Nations overseers say they were unaware of the systematic skimming of oil-for-food revenues. They were focused on running aid programs and assuring food deliveries, they add.

Those guys are either lying, or dumb as rocks. The story barely touches on the most interesting aspect of this — Saddam’s use of this money to purchase opposition to American war efforts from politicians and governments. For that matter, the UN has a lot of explaining to do.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Wagner James Au emails that this is the money quote:

In the high-flying days after Iraq was allowed to sell its oil after 10 years of United Nations sanctions, the lobby of the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad was the place to be to get a piece of the action.

That was where the oil traders would gather whenever a journalist, actor or political figure would arrive in Iraq and openly praise Mr. Hussein. Experience taught them that the visitor usually returned to the hotel with a gift voucher, courtesy of the Iraqi president or one of his aides, representing the right to buy one million barrels or more of Iraqi crude.

(Emphasis added.) Au asks: “Which journalists? Which actors? Which political figures? Seems to me that the author, Susan Sachs, suspects more here than she’s revealing…”

Let’s hope that those names will appear in the next installment.

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