Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Wente on Iraq

She's on the money, in a manner of speaking
So much for theory. In reality, the oil-for-food program was one of the larger rip-offs of all time. Under the UN's nose, Saddam Hussein skimmed off billions. He sold oil to friendly firms at deep discounts, which then resold it for huge profits. They paid him kickbacks of 10 per cent. He also paid inflated prices (in return for more kickbacks) for inferior food and medicine. That was easy, because Saddam's regime had the power to approve all the suppliers. He spent some of the proceeds on bigger palaces and fleets of new Mercedes for his goon squads. He also paid out generous bribes to foreign friends, friends who were politically connected and opposed sanctions or military action against Iraq.
It's now estimated that Saddam stole at least $5-billion, money that was meant to feed hungry Iraqis and save sick babies. He made another $5-billion from smuggled oil. The biggest victims of this massive fraud were the Iraqi people.
The extent of the corruption is common knowledge in Iraq, where the program is derisively known as 'oil for palaces.' And it is a rude wake-up call for people who imagine Iraq would be better off under UN administration.
The solution cannot be to blindly hand it over to the UN. But those who strongly opposed the war just want to see us out of there, and the Bush Administration just wants it out of the news before the election. Sorry Iraqis, we know you kind of removed your army...but we have this election to do...so good luck and take it away, Kofi!


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