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Posing for the Cameras

Senator Norm Coleman garnered press attention for urging the resignation of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  But Coleman didn’t name anyone as a replacement, and the Bush administration issued a statement of support for Annan.  These developments help demonstrate that the real problem isn’t just one man but the organization and its member states, including the U.S..  There’s enough blame to go around–and Congress deserves part of it.

As far back as March 7, 2001–two years before the Iraq war–the New York Times reported in a Barbara Crossette story that Iraqi officials were demanding “kickbacks and illegal contributions” on contracts under the oil-for-food program.  She quoted diplomats and U.N. officials as saying that Iraq was making “illegal profits” from the U.N. program and “diverting money” from the people of Iraq.  It was a scheme, she said, that “may be enriching Mr. Hussein’s inner circles through millions of dollars deposited in banks outside Iraq?”  The story noted that a public report on this matter had been prepared by Annan and provided to the U.N. Security Council.

As early as 2000, U.N. managers for the program had alerted the Security Council to suspicions of illegal oil surcharges by the Iraqi Government.  The U.N. points out that, “One example of the Oil-for-Food staff’s efforts to flag dubious suppliers concerns the Al Wasel and Babel General Trading Company, which has been the subject of press attention.  In October 2001, UN experts alerted the Security Council Sanctions Committee (the “661 Committee”) that the prices in a proposed contract between the Al Wasel and Babel General Trading Company and Iraq appeared high.  The members of the Security Council nevertheless unanimously approved the contract.”

The U.N. says that, “It was only in April 2004 that the U.S. Treasury Department identified this company as a front for the regime.  This example demonstrates that UN staff did report suspicious cases and that while they were not mandated or equipped to check the backgrounds of all suppliers, even those who could, such as the U.S. Government, did not have all of this information until after the Oil-for-Food program ceased to operate.”

Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy, the U.S. Representative for United Nations Management and Reform, admits that, “Evidence that the Iraqis were attempting to impose excessive price premiums on oil exports?surfaced as early as the fall of 2000.”

Former U.N. official John Ruggie, who currently serves as Evron and Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of International Affairs of Harvard University, says that, “The United States alone had 60 professionals review each of the 36,000 contracts awarded–more than twice the size of the UN oil-for-food office’s professional staff.  America and Britain held up 5,000 contracts, sometimes for months, to ensure that no technology was getting through that Saddam could use for weapons purposes.  But they held up none–not a single solitary one–on the grounds of pricing irregularities, even when alerted by UN staff.”  If Annan should go, so should members of the U.S. mission to the U.N.  Let the heads roll.