Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mismanaging Iraq: Stealing From the Poor and Giving to the Rich

Ramzy Baroud, English.

Locating Dartmouth House, where Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq was scheduled to speak in London on April 18, was a challenge. Yet the moment I slipped quietly into the lecture hall, getting lost for an hour in the ever confusing and yet expanding city of London was the least of my concerns. His statements were shocking as were his many statistics: Iraq was simply and shamelessly robbed blind during the US-led UN sanctions. Sadly, the robbery and mismanagement continue until this day, but this time the figures are much more staggering.

As von Sponeck spoke, I reflected on my lengthy interview with Iraq’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Mohammed Al-Duri. Al Duri, being interviewed for the first time by English speaking media since claiming his post at the UN, revealed to me in early 2001, in equally shocking details, what sanctions had done to his country and people. He claimed that the UN was part of the problem. Led by two countries, the US and Britain, the UN Oil for Food Program and the “humanitarian” mission it established in Iraq was, he said, robbing the country blind and mismanaging funds, with needy Iraqi families receiving next to nothing. He spoke of the manipulation of Iraq’s wealth for political purposes and alleged that the UN was a tool in the hands of the United States government aimed at encouraging widespread popular disatisfaction with Saddam’s government before the country was dragged off to war.

In hindsight, Al-Duri’s assessment was very accurate. Promoting his new book: “A Different Kind of War,” von Sponeck reiterated in essence and substance Al-Duri’s claims; the only difference is that von Sponeck was an insider; his numbers and stories were impeccable and could hardly be contested. It’s no wonder that one and a half years after assuming his post in Baghdad in 1998, he resigned. Even at such uncongenial bureaucracy like the UN, some people still possess a living conscience; von Sponeck was and remains a man of great qualities.

By March 2003, when Iraq was invaded by American forces, the UN was generating $64 billion in sales of Iraqi oil, according to von Sponeck. But, scandalously, only $28 billion reached the Iraqi people. Around 70 percent of the Iraqi people benefited from the program. If distributed evenly, each Iraqi received half a US dollar per day. According to UN figures, an individual living under one dollar per day is classified as living in “abject poverty”. Even during the most destructive phases of war with Iran, Iraq has managed to provide relatively high living standards. Its hospitals were neither dilapidated, nor did its oil industry lie in ruins. Only after the UN sanctions in 1991 did the Iraqis suffer at such an appalling magnitude. Alas, the tyranny of Saddam expanded to become the tyranny of the international community as well.

“Neither the welfare of the Iraqi people nor the sovereignty of the Iraqis was respected,” by the UN and its two main benefactors, asserted von Sponeck. The UN Security Council’s “elected 10 or veto-wielding five” had nothing for Iraq but “empty words,” but there were “deliberate efforts to make life uncomfortable (for the Iraqis) through the Oil for Food program.” All efforts to modernize Iraq’s oil industry were blocked, said von Sponeck, all at the behest of “two governments that blocked all sorts of items,” which could’ve made that possible: Again, the United States and Britain, coincidently the same two countries that invaded and currently occupy Iraq. The logic in all of this is clear; the “preemptive” war on Iraq was factored into the sanctions from its early days.

The assessments of Al-Duri and von Sponeck converge, revealing the disagreeable intents of the US government and its followers many years before the horror of 9/11 polarized public opinion and allowed Washington’s political elites, the neoconservatives and contractors to make their case for war.

But where did the money go, during the sanctions and now, four years after the invasion?

Von Sponeck reported that a large chunk of the money generated from Iraq’s oil, 55 percent, went to fund the UN’s own inadequate “humanitarian” programs. Much of the rest was taken by the UN compensation commission, entrusted in handling claims of damages made by those allegedly harmed by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. According to von Sponeck, the Iraqi oil pie was so large, there was plenty for everyone: Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, and all the rest. But most ironically, the commission awarded a large sum of money to two Israeli kibbutzim in the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights, for allegedly losing some of their income due to the fact that the war damaged the tourism industry in Israel.

The robbery in Iraq hardly discontinued after the “liberation.” To the contrary, it intensified beyond belief. The US Government Accountability Office uncovered awesome discrepancies in the US military administration’s handling of the money: Billions went missing, hundreds of contractors fully compensated but whose work was never accounted for, layers upon layers of shady companies, contractors and sub-contractors (of which Halliburton and its subsidiary firm Kellogg, Brown & Root are just a mere illustration), in partnership with the new rulers of Iraq, are stealing the wealth of the once prosperous nation, leaving it in shambles.

And now, the Iraqis are facing enormous pressure to approve the new Iraqi oil and gas law. The draft bill, according to Iraqi MP Nur Al-Din Al-Hayyali, would give “50 percent of the Iraqi people’s oil wealth to foreign investing oil firms.” The nationalization of the country’s oil industry in 1972 is being reversed. The robbery that began in the early 1990s continues unabated. Shameful as it is, Iraq’s new rulers are stealing from the poor and giving the spoils to the rich.

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