IFinancing a weapons programme

27 September 2002

raq's attempts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles to deliver them, are being aided by increasing levels of funds earned outside the UN's oil-for-food programme, according to the UK government's dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, published on 24 September. While the proportion of the illicit revenues accounted for by military spending is unknown, the UK Joint Intelligence Committee found no evidence of any financial inhibitions in Iraq's efforts to procure equipment from abroad.

The sources of these earnings are detailed in another report, released on 18 September by the Washington-based Coalition for International Justice (CIJ). The CIJ claims that the need for the political support of states trading with Iraq - among them are the UAE, Jordan and Turkey - has made the US and the UK unwilling to put pressure on them to cease doing so. It adds that because Saddam Hussein openly awards contracts to those who back his regime politically, other UN Security Council members fear a hard line on sanctions will lose national companies lucrative business. The CIJ estimates Saddam Hussein's regime earned $2,275 million in 2001 through sanctions-busting trade.

Some of the revenues are accrued by exploiting the oil-for-food programme, persuading the sanctions committee to set an artificially low oil price then demanding kickbacks from companies to win contracts. However the CIJ estimates that 90 per cent of the hard currency is earned through oil smuggling, and that the main channel through which this oil flows is the recently reopened pipeline to Syria. It puts the value of this trade to Iraq in 2001 at around $1,175 million. The CIJ says the UN has been reluctant to press Syria on this issue because of the sensitive position Syria occupies in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 2001, Syria was elected to the UN Security Council.

Trucks to Turkey and Jordan and barges through Iranian waters, ferrying oil to the UAE or to Iran for re-export, are the other smuggling routes described in the report. The CIJ blames poor policing of Iranian waters and political considerations for the weak enforcement of UN sanctions. Turkey allows the US and the UK to use its bases to patrol the northern no-fly zone, and Jordan positions itself as the region's moderate interlocutor with the West.

On top of these illegal oil earnings, several other, more minor, sources of revenue are listed, among them the transport of people and goods to Jordan and Syria, and the export of sulphur to Jordan.

The report concludes by highlighting the ease with which Saddam Hussein has evaded the constraints placed upon him by sanctions: 'At the Turkish and Jordanian borders and the Gulf ports, any observer can see the extent of the trade. The Iraqis have attempted to undermine the sanctions regime by demonstrating in broad daylight how easy and profitable it can be to flout it.' However the UK dossier warns of the dangers of letting this continue: 'The steady increase over the last three years in the availability of funds will enable Saddam to progress the [weapons] programmes faster.'

Clare Dunkley

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