Dispatches > The Buzz

Follow the money

All the evidence against Saddam apparently is not enough to outweigh the UN's interest in continuing its oil-for-food deal with Iraq

Issue: "The cost of war," Feb. 15, 2003

With members of the United Nations Security Council circling around him, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave the world body's highest officers a tutorial on Iraq that marked the beginning of the end of diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. Using taped conversations from high-ranking Iraqi military officers, satellite photos, and testimony from defectors, Mr. Powell detailed Saddam Hussein's violations of UN resolutions, calling the deception "ingenious or evil genius." Among the evidence:

-that biological warfare agents were distributed on Iraqi missiles during UN debate over Iraq last fall;

-that a dozen weapons experts were placed in and remain under house arrest in advance of UN weapons inspectors' arrival;

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-that at least one active chemical weapons plant was deactivated in December while inspectors were in Iraq;

-that import of weapons components continued as recently as December;

-that al QaedaÐlinked terrorists have established a base of operations in northeastern Iraq with support from Baghdad.

The secretary of state was uncharacteristically expressive in his 90-minute presentation, his hand pounding the table and his voice strained. Seated behind him to underscore both the veracity and import of Mr. Powell's documentation was CIA director George Tenet.

Bush administration patience with diplomacy may be reaching the frayed end of the tightrope, but one challenge remains unspoken: the complicity of UN officials in Iraq's ongoing military buildup.

While UN weapons inspectors seek a full accounting of Iraq's arsenal, UN officers are evading full disclosure on their own oil-for-food program. UN officials in Baghdad include 500 internationals and 2,000 Iraqis. Their salaries range from $300 to $3,000 per month-in a country where living expenses are low, taxes don't exist, and basic services are virtually free.

Most of them are involved in supervising the oil-for-food program, an elaborate devolution from what began as UN sanctions against Iraq, whereby Saddam Hussein sells all the Iraqi oil he can, and the UN administers the proceeds following a checklist of no-no items that might allow him to build a war machine.

Problem is, as Mr. Powell ably demonstrated, Saddam is importing dual-use items despite the sanctions. And a few billion dollars in oil revenues seem to have gone missing. Oil sales under the program are reported at $58.6 billion. The UN has approved only $34 billion in imports of civilian items-and it has delivered on less than $25 billion.

UN documents state that banking services for its Iraq Account "have been placed with five different creditworthy banks." But officials won't disclose which banks, the amount of funds on account, or interest accrued. In six years, one long-time oil-for-food supervisor in Iraq complained to WORLD, "The UN has not produced a professional, comprehensive plan to guide allocation and spending." The UN Security Council has never asked for an audit.

While the Bush administration is poring over the sad state of UN dealings with Saddam, the president should look also at more chiseled history. The Russian delay to join the Allied cause in World War II did not flow from indecision; it was about money. Stalin secretly penned a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939 that supplied Germany with raw materials for its war machine. The pact benefitted Russia economically. It enabled Hitler to avoid an Atlantic blockade and to march on Poland, much as the UN's Baghdad bureaucracy with its ineffective sanctions and inattentive bureaucracy could be aiding Saddam Hussein's play for Lebensraum.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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