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Mucking out the UN

Claudia Rosett has another piece out at the WSJ on the investigation into the Oil for Food scandal. She points the finger at Kofi Annan:

Once Mr. Annan became secretary-general, he lost little time in getting deeply involved with Oil for Food. In October 1997, just 10 months into the job, he transformed what had begun as an ad hoc, temporary relief measure into the Office of the Iraq Program, an entrenched U.N. department, which reported to him directly--and was eliminated only after the U.S.-led coalition, against Mr. Annan's wishes, deposed Saddam. To run Oil for Food, Mr. Annan picked Benon Sevan (now alleged to have received oil money from Saddam, which he denies) and kept him there until the program ended about six years later.

Mr. Annan's reorganization of Oil for Food meant a nontrivial change in the trajectory of the program. All the signs are that Saddam immediately took the cue that he could now start gaming the program with impunity--and Mr. Annan did not prove him wrong. Within the month, Saddam had created the first crisis over the U.N. weapons inspectors, who were supposed to be part of the sanctions and Oil for Food package. Mr. Annan's response was not to throttle back on Oil for Food but to go before the Security Council a few months later and urge that Baghdad be allowed to import oil equipment along with the food and medicine to which the program had been initially limited. This set the stage for the ensuing burst in Saddam's oil production, kickbacks, surcharges and smuggling.

Mr. Annan then flew to Baghdad for a private powwow with Saddam and returned to declare that this was a man he could do business with. The weapons inspectors returned to Iraq for a short spell, but by the end of 1998, Saddam had evicted them for the next four years. Mr. Annan, however, went right on doing business. And big business it was, however humanitarian in name. Under the Oil for Food deal, Mr. Annan's Secretariat pulled in a 2.2% commission on Saddam's oil sales, totaling a whopping $1.4 billion over the life of the program, to cover the costs of supervising Saddam. Yet somehow the Secretariat never found the funding to fully meter oil shipments, ensure full inspections of all goods entering Iraq, or catch the pricing scams that by the new estimates of Senate investigators let Saddam rake in $4.4 billion in kickbacks on relief contracts.

Mr. Annan and his aides would also have us believe that Oil for Food had nothing to do with Saddam's smuggling of oil--which generated the lion's share of his illicit income. But it was only after Oil for Food geared up that Saddam's oil smuggling really took off, totaling $13.6 billion during his entire 12 years between wars, but with more than two-thirds of that--an estimated $9.7 billion--earned during the era of Oil for Food. Those were precisely the years in which Mr. Annan repeatedly went to bat to enable Saddam, under Oil for Food, to import the equipment to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure, whence came all that smuggled oil.

As long as Annan holds onto his job, he's well placed to block investigations into the collusion between the UN and Saddam. Checks and balances are not built into the UN system very well. But then he's only got two years left in his final term. As a 'lame duck', some of his subordinates might start looking to distance themselves from his sleaze. I only hope Paul Volcker, who I respect very much, will use this to get to the bottom of the corruption and not just try to cover it up. That's the only way to save the UN -- and yes, I still think there's something there worth saving.

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