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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Oil for Food Scandal

In early October, Charles Duelfer, the most recent head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) issued a final report on the status of Iraq's weapons programs.

The main findings, of course, have been well-known for quite some time -- long before they were issued. After all, Duelfer's predecessor David Kay has been saying for about a year that Iraq had no significant WMD programs. Here are noteworthy passages from the "Key Findings" summary:
• Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program.

• Although Saddam clearly assigned a high value to the nuclear progress and talent that had been developed up to the 1991 war, the program ended and the intellectual capital decayed in the succeeding years.

• While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter...

• In practical terms, with the destruction of the Al Hakam facility, Iraq abandoned its ambition to obtain advanced BW [biological] weapons quickly. ISG found no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW program or was conducting BW-specifi c work for military purposes. Indeed, from the mid-1990s, despite evidence of continuing interest in nuclear and chemical weapons, there appears to be a complete absence of discussion or even interest in BW at the Presidential level.
I don't know why the CIA spells "Hussein" as "Husayn."

Conservatives, perhaps worried about what these findings might do to the President's re-election efforts, harped on findings that seemed to "prove" that Saddam Hussein was still a threat that had to be faced by US military might. Benjamin, in comments about my post yesterday, wonders if Kerry supporters even recognized the oil-for-food scandal. Here's Duelfer on this:
Saddam’s primary goal from 1991 to 2003 was to have UN sanctions lifted, while maintaining the security of the Regime.

The introduction of the Oil-For-Food program (OFF) in late 1996 was a key turning point for the Regime. OFF rescued Baghdad’s economy from a terminal decline created by sanctions. The Regime quickly came to see that OFF could be corrupted to acquire foreign exchange both to further undermine sanctions and to provide the means to enhance dual-use infrastructure and potential WMD-related development.

By 2000-2001, Saddam had managed to mitigate many of the effects of sanctions and undermine their international support. Iraq was within striking distance of a de facto end to the sanctions regime, both in terms of oil exports and the trade embargo, by the end of 1999.

Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized...
This all sounds somewhat worrisome, but the reality should not detract from the basic factual conclusion of the report. Iraq had no WMD programs.

While it was true that the sanctions were hotly debated, it is also true that they cannot be ended without a UN Security Council Resolution. And guess what, the US has a veto there. The sanctions could not have been reversed without US assent.

It is also true that the money Saddam Hussein siphoned from the program could not easily have been used to buy WMD-related goods.

Before getting to that point, however, it is worth looking at just how much cash was Duelfer talking about?
The Regime financed these government-sanctioned programs by several illicit revenue streams that amassed more that $11 billion from the early 1990s to OIF outside the UN-approved methods. The most profitable stream concerned Protocols or government-to-government agreements that generated over $7.5
billion for Saddam. Iraq earned an additional $2 billion from kickbacks or surcharges associated with the UN’s OFF program; $990 million from oil “cash sales” or smuggling; and another $230 million from other surcharge impositions.
So, that amounts to about $11 billion, a figure that has been kicking around for many months -- since a GAO investigation arrived at this figure.

In mid-July 2004, Professor Joy Gordon put the alleged $11 billion in perspective. She published "Scandals of Oil for Food" in Middle East Report Online.
Under the sanctions, Iraq's annual gross domestic product dropped from about $60 billion to about $13 billion, according to a joint Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program estimate released in 1997. Assume that all the accusations of corruption are true, and the government of Saddam Hussein did indeed salt away $11 billion over the six years in which Oil for Food was in effect. Even if those funds had purchased humanitarian goods, the Iraqi GDP would have risen to $15 billion annually -- not an amount that could have compensated for the loss of 75 percent of the economy or rebuilt the dilapidated infrastructure.
In a November 2002 article ("Cool War") for Harpers Magazine, Dr. Gordon pointed out that the US frequently blocked Iraqi expenditures under OFF. Thus, Iraq couldn't even use most of the money it acquired legally -- let alone the siphoned cash:
Since the programme began, Iraq has earned approximately $57 billion in oil revenues, of which it has spent about $23 billion on goods that actually arrived. This comes to about $170 per year per person, which is less than one half the annual per capita income of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Iraqi diplomats noted last year that this is well below what the U.N. spends on food for dogs used in Iraqi de-mining operations (about $400 per dog per year on imported food, according to the U.N.).

The severe limits on funds created a permanent humanitarian crisis, but the situation has been worsened considerably by chronic delays in approval for billions of dollars' worth of goods. As of last July more than $5 billion in goods was on hold...

Nearly everything for Iraq's entire infrastructure—electricity, roads, telephones, water treatment—as well as much of the equipment and supplies related to food and medicine has been subject to Security Council review. In practice, this has meant that the United States and Britain subjected hundreds of contracts to elaborate scrutiny, without the involvement of any other country on the council; and after that scrutiny, the United States, only occasionally seconded by Britain, consistently blocked or delayed hundreds of humanitarian contracts.
Typically, the US claimed that it was blocking items because they were "dual use" and could therefore be deflected to Iraqi weapons programs.

Though the Duelfer Report notes that Iraq had some connections facilitating illegal transfer of dual use items, the basic facts cited above remain true. Those contacts and purchases did not result in resumption of any serious WMD program.

Worse, for Bush defenders, Iraq didn't want WMD programs to hurt the US. Saddam Hussein wanted WMD, as he always had, to threaten Iran and assure Iraq's position in the region. This fact is emphasized in the story about the Duelfer Report that appeared in The Washington Post, October 7, 2004 (p. A1). It was written by Dana Priest and Walter Pincus:
But after extensive interviews with Hussein and his key lieutenants, Duelfer concluded that Hussein was not motivated by a desire to strike the United States with banned weapons, but wanted them to enhance his image in the Middle East and to deter Iran, against which Iraq had fought a devastating eight-year war. Hussein believed that "WMD helped save the regime multiple times," the report said.
Moreover, even if the worst-case scenarios played out after sanctions ended, Duelfer found that Iraq had no concrete WMD plans:
"The former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam" tasked to take this up once sanctions ended.
Iraq was not a significant threat to US interests.

Iraq had no WMD programs and though Hussein badly wanted such a program (especially a nuclear program) and accumulated billions of dollars to pay for them, he could not acquire material under sanctions. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the US had the unilateral power to assure the continuation of the sanctions and regularly blocked billions of dollars worth of potential dual-use equipment from entering Iraq. If anything, as Dr. Gordon rightly emphasizes, the US was super-cautious and blocked goods that would have helped alleviate significant suffering in Iraq, where perhaps 500,000 children died as a result of the sanctions.

Plus, on top of all else, this had very little to do with 9/11-style threats to American security since Iraq didn't even want to acquire these weapons to threaten the US.

Like the US, Iraq feared Iran.


PS: Note that the Post story helpfully summarizes some additional Duelfer findings:
Nuclear Weapons

Iraq's "crash" program in 1991 to build a nuclear weapon before the Persian Gulf War was far from successful, and was nowhere near being months away from producing a weapon, as the administration asserted. Only micrograms of enriched uranium were produced and no weapon design was completed.

Duelfer also found no information to support allegations that Iraq sought uranium from Africa or any other country after 1991, as Bush once asserted in a major speech before the invasion.

...Although some steps were taken that could have helped restart the nuclear program, using oil-for-food money, Duelfer concluded that his team "uncovered no indication that Iraq had resumed fissile material or nuclear weapons research and development activities since 1991."

Biological Weapons

Duelfer's report is the first U.S. intelligence assessment to state flatly that Iraq had secretly destroyed its biological weapons stocks in the early 1990s. By 1995, though, and under U.N. pressure, it abandoned its efforts.

The document rules out the possibility that biological weapons might have been hidden, or perhaps smuggled into another country, and it finds no evidence of secret biological laboratories or ongoing research that could be firmly linked to a weapons program.

There also was no evidence that Iraq possessed or was developing a mobile biological weapons production system, an assertion Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others made before the invasion. The two trailers that were found in early 2003 were "almost certainly designed and built . . . exclusively for the generation of hydrogen" gas.

Chemical Weapons

Duelfer's report said that no chemical weapons existed and that there is no evidence of attempts to make such weapons over the past 12 years.
The Post also ran a handy side-by-side comparison of Bush administration claims and Duelfer findings.

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