US 'backed illegal Iraqi oil deals'

The United States administration turned a blind eye to extensive sanctions-busting in the pre-war sale of Iraqi oil, according to a new Senate investigation.

A report released on Monday night by Democratic staff on a Senate investigations committee presents documentary evidence that the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime, but did nothing to stop them.

The scale of the shipments involved dwarfs those previously alleged by the Senate committee against United Nations staff and European politicians such as British MP George Galloway and former French minister Charles Pasqua.

In fact, the Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil—more than the rest of the world put together.

“The US 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,” the report says. “On occasion, the US actually facilitated the illicit oil sales.”

The report is likely to ease pressure from conservative Republicans on Kofi Annan to resign from his post as UN Secretary General.

The new findings are also likely to be raised when Galloway appears before the Senate subcommittee on investigations on Tuesday.

The Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow arrived on Monday in Washington demanding an apology from the Senate for what he called the “schoolboy dossier” passed off as an investigation against him.

“It was full of holes, full of falsehoods and full of value judgements that are apparently only shared here in Washington,” he said at Washington Dulles airport.

He told Reuters: “I have no expectation of justice ... I come not as the accused but as the accuser.
I am [going] to show just how absurd this report is.”

Galloway has denied allegations that he profited from Iraqi oil sales and will come face to face with the committee in what promises to be one of the most highly charged pieces of political theatre seen in Washington for some time.

Principal allegations

Monday’s report makes two principal allegations against the Bush administration. Firstly, it found the US Treasury failed to take action against a Texas oil company, Bayoil, which facilitated payment of “at least $37-million in illegal surcharges to the Hussein regime”.

The surcharges were a violation of the UN oil-for-food programme, by which Iraq was allowed to sell heavily discounted oil to raise money for food and humanitarian supplies.

However, Saddam was allowed to choose which companies were given the highly lucrative oil contracts. Between September 2000 and September 2002 (when the practice was stopped), the regime demanded kickbacks of 10 to 30 US cents a barrel in return for oil allocations.

In its second main finding, the report said the US military and the State Department gave a tacit green light for shipments of nearly eight million barrels of oil bought by Jordan, a vital American ally, entirely outside the UN-monitored oil-for-food system. Jordan was permitted to buy some oil directly under strict conditions, but these purchases appeared to be under the counter.

The report details a series of efforts by UN monitors to obtain information about Bayoil’s oil shipments in 2001 and 2002, and the lack of help provided by the US Treasury.

After repeated requests over eight months from the UN and the US State Department, the Treasury’s office of foreign assets control wrote to Bayoil in May 2002, requesting a report on its transactions, but did not “request specific information by UN or direct Bayoil to answer the UN’s questions”.

Bayoil’s owner, David Chalmers, has been charged over the company’s activities. His lawyer Catherine Recker told The Washington Post: “Bayoil and David Chalmers [said] they have done nothing illegal and will vigorously defend these reckless accusations.”

The Jordanian oil purchases were shipped in the weeks before the war, out of the Iraqi port of Khor al-Amaya, which was operating without UN approval or surveillance.

Investigators found correspondence showing that Odin Marine, the US company chartering the seven huge tankers that picked up the oil at Khor al-Amaya, repeatedly sought and received approval from US military and civilian officials that the ships would not be confiscated by US Navy vessels in the Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF) enforcing the embargo.

Odin was reassured by a State Department official that the US “was aware of the shipments and has determined not to take action”.

The company’s vice-president, David Young, told investigators that a US naval officer at the MIF told him that he “had no objections” to the shipments.

“He said that he was sorry he could not say anything more. I told him I completely understood and did not expect him to say anything more,” Young said.

An executive at Odin Maritime confirmed the Senate account of the oil shipments as “correct”, but declined to comment further.

It was not clear on Monday night whether the Democratic report would be accepted by Republicans on the Senate investigations committee.

The Pentagon declined to comment. The US representative’s office at the UN referred inquiries to the State Department, which failed to return calls.—Guardian Unlimited Â

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