Joe Conason's Journal

The fleecing of the U.N.'s "oil for food" program. Plus: More petty potshots at "The Clinton Wars."

Published May 28, 2003 9:07PM (EDT)

Who bribed Saddam and sons?
In an expose profoundly embarrassing to the U.N. Security Council, an ABC News investigation last week revealed extensive thievery in the "oil for food" program that was meant to reduce the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi people. According to the May 20 report by Brian Ross and Rhonda Schwartz, Saddam Hussein and his cronies skimmed more than $2 billion in illicit payments from firms doing business with Iraq under the U.N.-supervised program. Foreign companies that won contracts dealing in food, medicine and oil were reportedly required to funnel kickbacks into Swiss and Jordanian bank accounts controlled by top figures in the outlaw regime, including Uday Hussein.

The ABC story named no corporate names (although it mentioned a bribe scheme involving a Russian oil-trading outfit). But its suggestion of widespread routine corruption made me wonder which specific firms here and in Europe bribed Saddam and his sons to do business in Iraq. Might the culprits conceivably have included Ingersoll-Rand and Ingersoll-Dresser Pump, the Halliburton subsidiaries that did business with Iraq under the oil-for-food program back when Dick Cheney ran the oil-services giant? It's a speculative question but a tantalizing one. As the Washington Post reported on June 23, 2001, those two outfits "signed contracts to sell more than $73 million in oil production equipment and spare parts to Iraq while Cheney was chairman and chief executive officer of the Dallas-based company." Both subsidiaries were later sold off. (An ironic footnote is that Halliburton's deals with Saddam's Iraq were done through "French affiliates" of Ingersoll-Rand and Ingersoll-Dresser Pump.)

Perhaps ABC News should follow up last week's probe with greater detail. Or maybe another news organization can take a closer look at Halliburton's shrouded dealings in Iraq, where the vice president's former associates are now minting money yet again, of course.

Speaking of corruption in Iraq, when will a major news organization investigate the Jordanian and Swiss indictments of Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon-sponsored Iraqi politician, and his brothers? For reasons examined here by Howard Kurtz, I'm not counting on the New York Times for new revelations.

Seven with a bullet
On the Blumenthal beat, David Greenberg has delivered a strong endorsement of "The Clinton Wars" in the Washington Monthly. Greenberg is the second professional historian to write favorably about Blumenthal's memoir. (The first was Robert Dallek, who reviewed it for the New York Times Book Review.)

Elsewhere, scattered sniping by the usual suspects continues. Today Robert Bartley unloads ponderously in the Wall Street Journal. (Bartley's review is notable only for its curious "non-denial denial" of a story Blumenthal tells about his alleged arrangements with Kenneth Starr, on page 329.) Also today, the Washington Post publishes a juvenile Style piece that serves only as a forum for others to trash the author. Linton Weeks doesn't mention the book's detailed dissection of Post reporting on the Clintons, Starr and Whitewater. Anyway, all the attacks on Sid seem to be working: Drudge says "The Clinton Wars" will debut at No. 7 on the June 8 Times bestseller list.
[3:57 9.m. PST, May 28, 2003]

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