Food for fraud
Of the many appalling aspects of Saddam
Hussein's tyranny, one of the most unforgivable was the pain and
death he inflicted on Iraq's children. And even more shocking is
that the program that was meant to help them, the United Nations'
Oil-for-Food program, turned out to have been disgracefully
corrupt, a caricature of a foreign aid program.
During the 1990s, it was always the U.S. government that took the
blame, even though it was Saddam who should have. The purported
reason was that we refused to let up on the U.N. sanctions against
Iraq, which were imposed because Saddam failed to open up his
Weapons of Mass Destruction programs to international inspections,
and demonstrably disarm -- as he had agreed in the Gulf War
For instance, a UNICEF report from 1997, stated, "32 percent of
Children under the age of five - a total of 960,000 - are
undernourished." By some reports, 5,000 Iraqi children died every
month due to sanctions. Over one million Iraqis were said to have
died from disease and malnutrition during the 1990s.
Now, it was this suffering that the U.N. Oil-for-Food program was
meant to assuage when the program came on line in 1995, but did
not. Since the fall of Saddam and the end of the Oil-for-Food
program on Nov. 21, 2003, the staggering failings of the program,
now better known as the Oil-for-Palaces program, have been
This week on Capitol Hill, Rep. Christopher Shays, chairman of the
Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and
International Relations, will convened a hearing to examine the
Iraqi Oil-For-Food program. It was the second congressional hearing
into the subject. The Iraqi governing Council has started its own
investigation, and even U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has
finally agreed to an independent investigation, as well.
Some details of the Oil for Food scandal had already been reported,
and can be found in a new paper by Nile Gardiner and James Phillips
of the Heritage Foundation, "Investigate the United Nations Oil-for
Between 1997 and 2002, Oil-for-Food
generated $67 billion in revenues for the Iraqi regime. There was
little or no oversight from the United Nations of how this money
In addition Saddam Hussein is estimated to
have generated $10.1 billion in illegal revenues by exploiting the
Oil-for-Food program, through smuggling through Syria and through
illicit surcharges on oil contracts.
Saddam used Oil-for-Food to stay in power
through a global network of companies, politicians and other
individuals who benefited from the program. The list reaches into
western governments, into the U.N. itself and includes 46 Russian
and 11 French names.
Between 1996 and 2003, Russian companies
received $7.3 billion in business through Oil-for-Food; French
firms earned $3.7 billion.
The United Nations itself had a vested
interest in the program, overseeing a flow of funds averaging at
least $15 billion a year. It was administered by 10 U.N. agencies,
employing over 1,000 staff and the U.N. collected 2.2 percent
commission on every barrel of oil.
Perhaps the most surprising allegation out of yesterday's hearing
was that U.S. administrator Paul Bremer had dragged his feet as
regards the Oil-for-Food inquiry by the Iraqi Governing Council.
According to Claude Hankes-Drielsma, a British adviser to the IGC,
Mr. Bremer "would not release funds...to meet the cost of the
investigation unless the work was put out to tender" - this at the
same time evidence of wrong doing was surely being gotten rid of
throughout U.N. offices. We will need to hear from Mr. Bremer the
reasons for his hesitation.
Clearly, these revelations do not inspire confidence that the
United Nations is capable of running anything in Iraq - exactly at
the moment when the Bush administration is hanging its hopes for a
June 30 transition in Iraq on U.N. guidance. Any role for the
United Nations must be limited.
It is also worth remembering that Iraqi children are so much better
off today than they used to be under Saddam's dictatorship and his
corrupt dealings with the United Nations. Despite all the attacks
on Bush administration policy, we are giving Iraqis a future.
Through USAID, 3 million Iraqi children have been vaccinated.
Almost a quarter million children and pregnant women have been
given high protein foods. More than 2,500 schools have been
renovated and 2.5 million children have been given school kits, and
on and on.
If 5,000 Iraqi children were dying every month under Saddam, and we
have now been in Iraq one year, it means that 60,000 children have
saved. That's a number worth remembering.
First appeared in The Washington Times