On Thursday, the independent inquiry investigating the United Nations Oil for Food program in Iraq issued its fifth and final report, charging the Hussein regime with collecting billions of dollars in kickbacks from oil sales to over 2,000 companies. We speak with Denis Halliday, former head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq, about the details of the case and questions about U.S. complicity in illicit sales. [includes rush transcript]
UN Secretary General Koffi Annan created the inquiry in April 2004. Under Oil-for-Food, the Iraqi government was allowed to sell oil for funds it could use to purchase humanitarian goods. Devastated by crippling US-led sanctions, most Iraqis depended on the program for survival. It ran from 1996 until 2003.
The inquiry found the Saddam Hussein regime collected $1.8 billion dollars in kickbacks and surcharges from oil sales to over 2,000 companies. The companies include major global firms such as DaimlerChrysler, Siemens, and Volvo. It also says oil sales were used to influence beneficiaries to express public opposition to the US led sanctions on Iraq. The $1.8 billion dollar figure amounts to less than 3% of the $64 billion dollar program, but has received a great deal of attention from UN critics in the mainstream media and both political parties. These critics say the kickbacks and surcharges show the UN is plagued by endemic corruption and has been negligent in dealing with the Hussein regime. The inquiry was headed by Paul Volcker, former chair of the Federal Reserve.
While much of the focus has remained on the UN failure to monitor kickbacks and bribes, little attention has been paid to another of the investigation’s main conclusions. The Volcker inquiry found Hussein was able to make almost $11 billion dollars off of selling oil smuggled through Jordan and Turkey. A Senate investigation in May found the Bush administration was made aware of the smuggling but did nothing to stop it. Jordan and Turkey are key U.S. allies in the Middle East.
Fifty-two percent of the kickbacks collected by the Saddam Hussein regime came through U.S. oil purchases. The Senate investigation’s report said, "The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions. On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales."
- Denis Halliday, former head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq and a former UN Assistant Secretary General. In 1998, he resigned his post in protest of the US-led sanctions against Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: The inquiry was headed by Paul Volcker, former chair of the Federal Reserve.
PAUL VOLCKER: What I do want to emphasize is that the corruption of the program by Saddam and by many participants — and it was substantial — could not have been nearly so pervasive if there had been more disciplined management by the U.N. and its agencies. It is in that sense that this last report reinforces and underscores the need for fundamental and wide-ranging administrative reform that we emphasized in our report last month.
AMY GOODMAN: That was independent inquiry committee head, Paul Volcker, speaking Thursday. While much of the focus has remained on the U.N. failure to monitor kickbacks and bribes, little attention has been paid to another of the investigation’s main conclusions. The Volcker inquiry found Hussein was able to make almost $11 billion off of selling oil smuggled through Jordan and Turkey. A Senate investigation in May found the Bush administration was made aware of the smuggling, but did nothing to stop it.
Jordan and Turkey are key U.S. allies in the Middle East. 52% of the kickbacks collected by the Saddam Hussein regime came through U.S. oil purchases. The Senate investigations report said, quote, "The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated U.N. sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing U.N. sanctions, on occasion the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales." Again that, from the report.
Well, joining us to talk about the Volcker Report is Denis Halliday, former head of the U.N. Oil for Food program, the humanitarian program in Iraq, former U.N. Assistant Secretary General. In 1998, he resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq, which he has since called genocidal. Welcome to Democracy Now!
DENIS HALLIDAY: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we get your response to the report, a lot is being said this week about 2,000 U.S. service men and women dead in Iraq, a terrible number of casualties. What about the number of Iraqis?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, you know, let me say first, I also feel the pain of American families who have lost young people, and the figures you gave show that many are 20, 21. They’re just children, badly educated, not knowing what they’re doing perhaps. It’s a tragic loss of life. But we mustn’t forget there’s probably over 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed by American troops in this invasion and occupation. And that is a huge tragedy, which somehow we forget about in this country. It reminds me very much of Vietnam. It wasn’t 58,000 who died in Vietnam, it was perhaps 2 to 3 million. And the same mistake is being made in Washington and throughout this country.
AMY GOODMAN: And how do you know that figure?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Which figure?
AMY GOODMAN: 100,000 Iraqis dead?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, this came out of Lancet, the well-known British medical journal. And the figures keep on being endorsed. But whether it’s 30 or 50 or 100, it’s much greater than 2,000. And we cannot forget that these are innocent civilians we are talking about. We are not talking about military casualties on the part of Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of the Oil for Food program, the kickbacks, who benefited, who didn’t; your response to this latest and final report?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, for me, this is the most important part of the report. He’s now wasted thousands of pages looking at the Secretariat and the Secretary General and one or two bad apples, to use Mr. Bush’s term, within the Secretariat. Now we’re looking at the big stuff, and we’re looking at the member states of the Security Council, their control or lack of control of their companies which sold to Iraq, and as you’ve just said, purchased oil from Iraq, including the United States, although perhaps indirectly, and the corruption and kickbacks and profit-making that came out of this process of Oil for Food, which in itself is a good program and did some very good work. But to see these countries and their corporate entities profiteering, of course, is very sad, a very sort of miserable view of life, but I think we have to underline that the $64 billion program was not actually diminished by this $1.8. This $1.8 is over and above those payments which were made properly and through the United Nations and disbursed, hopefully, properly, too.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the issue of Jordan and Turkey, key U.S. allies?
DENIS HALLIDAY: That’s right. This was a deal made clearly with Turkey, where Incirlik resides, when the Americans were using the airbase there to bomb Iraq under the no-fly zone bombing program, and Jordan is a very important member state, both for actually Iraq and the United States. And this sale of Baghdad through the north and through the Jordanian border was approved by the State Department. I mean, I witnessed thousands of trucks myself crossing both of those borders, full knowledge what was going on. Only later I discovered the State Department had, in fact, approved the so-called — it wasn’t underhand, it was above-board. We all knew about it. U.S. satellites monitored this traffic.