Claudia Rosett has been muckraking on the UN's Oil-for-Food program for months and the information she has uncovered has helped spur Congressional calls for investigations and even shed some sunlight on the UN's corrupt practices. The Oil-for-Food program was supposed to allow Iraq to sell some of its oil for necessary food and medicines whilst Iraq was under UN sanctions. But Saddam cut side-deals with the UN-approved suppliers to obtain kickbacks for himself (that went to his various bank accounts in countries with strong bank secrecy laws).
In this week's Weekly Standard, she connects the dots from the Oil-for-Food program to Saddam funding terrorism and, potentially, al-Qaeda. Here's an excerpt:
Under terms agreed to by the U.N., Saddam got to sell oil to buy such humanitarian supplies as food and medicine, to be rationed to the Iraqi population. But the terms were hugely in Saddam's favor. The U.N. let Saddam choose his own business partners, kept the details of his deals confidential, and while watching for weapons-related goods did not, as it turns out, exercise much serious financial oversight. Saddam turned this setup to his own advantage, fiddling prices on contracts with his hand-picked partners, and smuggling out oil pumped under U.N. supervision with U.N.-approved new equipment. Thus did we arrive at the recent General Accounting Office estimate that under Oil-for-Food, despite sanctions, Saddam managed to skim and smuggle for himself more than $10 billion out of oil sales meant for relief.
And the timing gets interesting, especially the year 1998. Not only was that the year in which bin Laden signaled his big comeback in Afghanistan. It was also the year in which Oil-for-Food jelled into a reliable vehicle for Saddam's scams, a source of enormous, illicit income.
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UNTIL 1998, Iraq had not loomed large in bin Laden's rants. Why, then, such stress on Iraq, at that particular moment, in declaring war on America? It is certainly possible that bin Laden simply figured Iraq had become another good selling point, a handy way to whip up anger at the United States. But it is at least intriguing that the month after bin Laden's fatwa [against the US], in March 1998, as the 9/11 Commission reports, two al Qaeda members visited Baghdad. And in July 1998, "an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with bin Laden."
There's more and it's worthwhile reading it.