Down Under, Oil for Food Scandal Spins the Other Way

In Australia, the politics of the United Nations Oil for Food scandal have been reversed.

In the United States and Europe, conservative commentators have played up the scandal, noting that that French, Russian and British officials who opposed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 had privately benefited from dealings with Saddam Hussein's regime. The editors of the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and others say the findings of a U.N investigation discredit war critics and deserve further investigation.

But in Australia, the oil for food story is spinning the other way. Revelations that the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), a government-sanctioned cartel, paid $300 million in kickbacks to the government of Saddam Hussein has pro-war officials on the defensive and critics calling for a wider investigation.

An official investigation has revealed that between 1996 and 2002, the Australian government approved 292 AWB shipments of wheat to Iraq worth more than $2 billion. "And almost every cargo breached [U.N.] sanctions," says the Sydney Morning Herald.

Four Corners, an investigative television show along the lines of "60 Minutes," notes that the AWB paid five times more in kickbacks to Hussein's regime than any other person or company implicated in the oil for food scandal.

Prime Minister John Howard, a strong supporter of the invasion that overthrew Hussein, testified last week that he did not read diplomatic cables sent to his office warning that the AWB might be paying bribes in the form of inflated "transport fees" to a company linked to Hussein's government.

Howard's defense didn't appease editors of The Australian, a pro-war newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. Usually supportive of Howard, the paper rejected his government's explanations and said it was "time for answers."

SMH columnist Peter Hartcher pointed out that Howard rallied support for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 by saying that Hussein had "cruelly and cynically manipulated" the oil for food program. Despite the apparent contradiction in Howard's position, Hartcher predicted he would escape rebuke -- the official inquiry is investigating wrongdoing by the AWB, not the government.

By Jefferson Morley |  April 18, 2006; 6:15 PM ET
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OMG!!!1111... they are feeding starving people wheat? what to do? invade? nuke?
Oh no WMD!! Wheat of Mass Destruction!

Posted by: kingfish | April 18, 2006 12:24 PM

Actually Kingfish they were stealing the money that was supposed to buy wheat and giving it directly to Saddam Hussein which broke Australian law on many fronts.

in the meantime the Iraqis were deprived of $300 million worth of food and medicine by this gang of crooks and they were supported to the hilt by the government all the way through.

Then the government said there were WMD and blew them up after helping to starve them to death for 12 years.

Posted by: Marilyn | April 18, 2006 12:31 PM

The sanctions were immoral... therefore breaking them by selling wheat is the moral thing to do. Who cares about the $300 million... that money was paid to Iraq.. not stolen from it.

Posted by: kingfish | April 18, 2006 01:00 PM

Mr. Morley,
You seem to be a reasonable person. Is there anyway to get a blog/posting on the current explosive statements by the President regarding Iran and "all options on the table" including tactical nuclear strikes?
This need to be discussed, debated, etc among politicians and the people. Doesn't anyone find this disturbing and dangerous?
Honestly, who is more dangerous at this point - Bush or Iran?

Posted by: CWS | April 18, 2006 01:25 PM

I for one support CWS. I find the current situation he refers to terribly disturbing and extremely dangerous. Critical, in fact! In times of crises such as these, we need democracy in action, something we do not have enough of.

In any case, what is that "all options on the table" supposed to mean? What options? Are the options only to brainwash, blackmail, bribe, bully and blind? I see war as an option all right, bombing the hell out of the enemy, invading, occupying etc. That I see. But where are the alternatives? Where are the U.S. diplomatic options? What are they?

I happen to believe all the media should have been putting their best resources into this, in large number, and for a long time now, before hell breaks loose once again. Not after the fact, when it will be too late and everyone will be playing the infantile "follow the "leader"" game blindly, as was done so sheepishly last time around.

It is for all of us to prevent the next war. And to examine in detail how that can be done without going to war to prevent it... Anybody still interested?

If not, once again, be prepared to die and to mourn! For "war is a funeral service, even victory is a funeral", said Lao Tseu. Old Lao knew what he was talking about. He'd not only been there. He'd learned something in the process.

Posted by: Robert Rose | April 18, 2006 02:05 PM

Mr. Rose,
Thank you for your post. What truly needs to be discussed is Bush's refusal to take the nuclear option off the planning table?As a former Marine Infantry Officer, I can tell you there is no place for nuclear weapons in any theater. I understand war and contingency planning, but this is sheer lunacy.
I find the fact that Bush mentions tactical nuclear strikes and no one is addressing it or even confronting it especially the media.

Posted by: CWS | April 18, 2006 02:13 PM

The Howard government in Australia has been completely discredited by this scandal. They got all hawkish on Saddam when this was what was required to stay in the good graces of the lunatics in the White House, but were only too happy to quietly finance Saddam when this helped them buy their party rural votes among wheat-producing Australian farmers.
"Steadfast ally in the war on terror..." Yeah, right. Prime Minister Howard is almost as discredited as George Bush himself.

Posted by: Sergio | April 18, 2006 02:29 PM

CWS, I understand. One of my good friends was a Royal Navy officer. He refused to "go nuclear"... and left to study at Oxford. I know he too would have supported your views forcefully.

With regard to the nuclear, I am truly amazed that no one seems prepared to even consider discussing it. I myself put a lot of effort into trying to have many of the most respected people I knew, in the media, discuss the use of depleted uranium by the USA in Afghanistan, in Yugoslavia and in Iraq. I sent them all a substantial file I had prepared, with references, pictures, etc. NOT ONE of them even acknowledged receiving the documentation, let alone replied to my request.

Posted by: Robert Rose | April 18, 2006 02:35 PM

I second CWS. Using nuclear weapons first, especially against a non-nuclear weapons state, is as serious a crime as you can get. It shouldn't be acceptable discourse to say that is "on the table".

Having said that, I also applaud Morley for highlighting the bitter end of the oil-for-food scandal. Pro-war commentators have quietly stopped pushing OFF as it became increasingly clear that the biggest transgressors were in fact the US, and, it now appears, Australia.

It's also been revealed in the Bayoil investigation that even the US Navy was complicit in oil smuggling out of Iraq, right up to the 2003 invasion.,3604,1485546,00.html

Posted by: OD | April 18, 2006 02:40 PM

So Mr. Morley - are you gonna help us?

Posted by: CWS | April 18, 2006 03:14 PM

I think the nuclear option on Iran is being discussed on a multitude of other boards.

I am interested in the American firms and individuals who benefitted from the oil for food program. When Coleman and others reported on the scandal the names of US firms were redacted on the report... can this be confirmed? Also, my understanding from the Galloway trial in the UK was that they were unable to link the amounts found in Iraqi records to his finances and this has been the case with others identified in Iraqi documents but not supported by financial data for those accused. I think this aspect of the oil for food program is interesting and I am wondering why there is not more on this.

Posted by: lexhamfox | April 18, 2006 04:14 PM

Try my links lexhamfox.,3604,1485546,00.html

The United States administration turned a blind eye to extensive sanctions-busting in the prewar sale of Iraqi oil, according to a new Senate investigation.
A report released last 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 UN staff and European politicians like the British MP, George Galloway, and the 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.
... Yesterday'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 $37m in illegal surcharges to the Hussein regime".
...In its second main finding, the report said the US military and the state department gave a tacit green light for shipments of nearly 8m 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.
...Bayoil's owner, David Chalmers, has been charged over the company's activities.
...Investigators found correspondence showing that Odin Marine Inc, the US company chartering the seven huge tankers which 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 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," Mr Young said.
An executive at Odin Maritime confirmed the senate account of the oil shipments as "correct" but declined to comment further.
...The Pentagon declined to comment. The US representative's office at the UN referred inquiries to the state department, which failed to return calls.
NOTE: These are just excerpts I'm giving you.

Treasury's Role in Illicit Iraq Oil Sales Cited
Senator Releases E-Mail From Parties Involved in Shipments Banned by U.N.
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post
February 17, 2005
The Treasury Department provided assurances that the United States would not obstruct two companies' plans to import millions of barrels of oil from Iraq in March 2003 in violation of U.N. sanctions, according to an e-mail from one of the companies. Diplomats and oil brokers have recently said that the United States had long turned a blind eye to illicit shipments of Iraqi oil by its allies Jordan and Turkey. The United States acknowledged this week that it had acquiesced in the trade to ensure that crucial allies would not suffer economic hardships.
But the e-mail, along with others released this week by Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs panel's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, provides evidence that the Bush administration directly abetted Jordan's efforts to build up its strategic reserves with smuggled Iraqi oil in the weeks before the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003.
The illicit oil exports took place outside the Iraq oil-for-food program, which the United Nations administered from 1996 to 2003. While allegations of corruption and mismanagement in that program are under investigation by five congressional committees, the Justice Department and a U.N.-appointed panel, the illicit oil exports outside the program have received less scrutiny. According to investigators, Iraq received more revenue from those exports than from the alleged oil-for-food kickbacks.

Posted by: OD | April 18, 2006 04:25 PM

Mr. Morley - go read over Arkin's blog today and the postings. After reading everything posted, I hope you decide to help or point this discussion in the right direction.

Posted by: CWS | April 18, 2006 05:05 PM

John Howard looks after his mates.George Bush is his mate so Oz went to war. Aussie wheat farmers are his mates so wheat gets sold to Iraq - whatever it takes. The Iraqis don't even vote in Australia so are irrelevent.

Posted by: sirbrumby | April 18, 2006 05:55 PM

Actually Marilyn it was The Butcher of Bahgdad who starved his people as he used the money from oil to buy weapons istead of food which was the whole idea of this program .Im am so tired of accustions that co-alition members "starved" the Iraqi people.

Posted by: ken | April 18, 2006 06:45 PM

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