The Magazine

Saddam's Cash

From the May 5, 2003 issue: And the journalists and politicians he bought with it.

May 5, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 33 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Editor's note, 1/30/04: On January 25, 2004, a daily newspaper in Iraq called al Mada published a list of individuals and organizations who it says received oil from the now-deposed regime. Among those listed is Shakir al Khafaji, an Iraqi-American from Detroit, who ran "Expatriate Conferences" for the regime in Baghdad. Al Khafaji also contributed $400,000 to the production of Scott Ritter's film "In Shifting Sands." Finally, al Khafaji arranged travel and financing for the "Baghdad Democrats"--Jim McDermott, Mike Thompson and David Bonior--last fall. Following the trip, al Khafaji contributed $5,000 to McDermott's Legal Defense Fund. THE WEEKLY STANDARD has contacted McDermott's office about returning the contribution. McDermott spokesman Mike Decesare said this morning that he had not yet spoken with McDermott, since it's three hours earlier on the West Coast. Asked about the contribution and the subsequent allegations about al Khafaji and oil, Decesare said, "I don't know anything about it." THE WEEKLY STANDARD will post a response from McDermott's office as soon as we get one. In the meantime, it's worth taking a second look at "Saddam's Cash."

SCATTERED AMONG the loose papers and bound files unearthed last week at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry in Baghdad was "letter no. 140/4/5," labeled "Confidential and Personal" and addressed to "The President's Office--Secretariat." The letter concerns George Galloway, a pro-Saddam member of the British Parliament, who founded a charity known as the Mariam Appeal, ostensibly to aid Iraqi children suffering under U.N. sanctions. The missive, from the Iraqi Intelligence Service, is a request that money be funneled directly to Galloway. It reads in part:

His projects and future plans for the benefit of [Iraq] need financial support to become a motive for him to do more work. And because of the sensitivity of getting money directly from Iraq, it is necessary to grant him oil contracts and special and necessary commercial opportunities to provide him with a financial income under commercial cover without being connected to him directly.

The letter further conveys Galloway's demand that "the name of Mr. Galloway or his wife should not be mentioned."

It also describes a meeting between Galloway and an Iraqi intelligence officer and states that Galloway sought to "ensure confidentiality in his financial and commercial relations with the country and reassure his personal security." Galloway, the letter went on, "needs continuous financial support from Iraq." He got it. Galloway "obtained through Mr. Tariq Aziz three million barrels of oil every six months, according to the oil-for-food programme. His share would be only between 10 and 15 cents per barrel. He also obtained a limited number of food contracts with the Ministry of Trade."

The letter, discovered by David Blair, a Baghdad-based reporter for the London Daily Telegraph, and his Iraqi translator, was revealed early last week. The next day, the Telegraph reported that Galloway had asked for more money, something the regime initially said it couldn't provide.

Galloway denies everything. He says the documents were forged--perhaps by foreign intelligence or by the Daily Telegraph. In a move sure to galvanize his critics, Galloway issued his denials from his vacation home--worth $400,000--on the coast of Portugal.

The Galloway revelations surely help explain the ravings of a fringe British politician. But they are more important for what they reveal--or more precisely, remind us--about the Iraqi regime.

Saddam Hussein has a long history of bribing anyone who could help his regime--businessmen, diplomats, politicians, and journalists. Throughout the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, Saddam lavished Arab leaders with gifts and contracts in exchange for their support. Shortly before his 1990 invasion of Kuwait, he shipped 100 new Mercedes 200 Series cars to top editors in Egypt and Jordan. Two days before the first attack, he offered Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak $50 million in cash, ostensibly for grain. After the invasion, he sought to buy neutrality or at least complacency by promising Mubarak and other Arab leaders that he would forgive all Kuwaiti debts once Iraq annexed the tiny nation as its nineteenth province.

As the Galloway affair makes clear, these practices continued throughout the 1990s, despite the increased scrutiny of Iraq's financial dealings by the United Nations. Before the recent conflict, says Tareq al-Mezrem from the Kuwaiti Information Office, the Iraqi regime gave journalists luxury "villas in Jordan, Tunisia, and even Lebanon."