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UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has announced that $30 million will be allocated to finance an independent investigation into alleged abuses under the UN Oil for Food program.
The funds will be taken from the balance on the accounts of the program, which ended a year ago. The question is whether there is any point in spending so much money on investigation when Iraq badly needs financial injections. And this is not the only question. Obviously, there could have been instances of corruption and lobbying during the implementation of the Oil for Food program, just as with virtually any business project (the program, despite its humanitarian basis, was primarily a business project). Moreover, this corruption and lobbying could have come in different forms and at different levels. This danger could have been foreseen from the very beginning. However, its accomplishments are undeniable: without it the Iraqis would not have survived under the sanctions. Therefore, the question is whether the program could have been different when it started in the political landscape of 1995. The investigation will only be of some benefit if it answers how effectively the sanction regime was run and whether it achieved the objectives it pursued. After all, the sanctions regime (Iraqis called it a blockade) allowed corruption to blossom both in Iraq and in all the structures related to the program. In the past, sanctions had been tested on South Africa and Yugoslavia. Iraq will probably not be the last country to have international sanctions introduced against it. The question is what form they should take. Moreover, numerous donor funds are now being set up around Iraq. Are there any guarantees that their money, as well as contracts on work in the country, will be distributed without such levers as corruption and lobbying? It is no coincidence that Sergei Kirpichenko, the Russian Foreign Ministry's special envoy, who attended a conference of Iraq's donors, said that bilateral channels were of primary importance in restoring the Iraqi economy, while "the efficacy of the International Fund still has to be proved." In this context, in an effort to take into account the mistakes made during the sanctions regime, the investigation can only be welcomed. Russia is interested also in it because Russian politicians and businessmen (although not only Russian) have been named in a series of accusations related to the program. Naturally, it wants to put an end to the speculation, as indeed do other participants in the program, including the US. It is no secret how the broad scope for manipulations around the program emerged. To begin with, the UN Security Council had to approve all contracts on work in Iraq and on supplies of food, medications and equipment. Russian businessmen and diplomats have many times told this RIA Novosti commentator about the complexity of the procedure. Many contracts from Russia were held up for several months, while those from the West were passed easily, even if they were more expensive. Why and how this happened is what Russian diplomats would like to know. In point of fact, the answer is obvious, but it must be clarified during the investigation. Of course, there was also lobbying inside Iraq. In theory, there is nothing wrong about every country wanting as many its companies as possible to work there. Isn't everyone doing the same now, with sanctions lifted and the Oil for Food program over? It is just that now oil is exchanged not for food, but for a role in the coalition and donation funds. When the UN program was in force, every country used whatever financial and political levers it had in New York and Baghdad. After all, UN approval was not enough for the Iraqi authorities to agree to work with a company. They were guided by their own interests and had a right to do so. Naturally, if a candidate country denounced the sanctions regime, it was a plus for Baghdad. How could it have been any other way? Another plus was ability to complete a project cheaply and well. Russia was one country that could do so. However, today merely the fact that Russian companies purchased up to 30% or even 40% of Iraq's oil exports and that Russia was a leader in humanitarian supplies to the country means some people have chosen to accuse Moscow of supporting Saddam Hussein's regime. But who else could Iraq cooperate with? With the US and Britain as they continued to bomb the country? As it happens, companies from these countries took the opportunity to work in Iraq using middlemen and played by the same rules as others. The terms for working in Iraq (both official and unofficial) were the same for everyone and there were no exceptions "for friends", well-informed sources have told RIA Novosti. In reality, Russia was not a leader in Iraq immediately and trailed France and China for a long time. But as the Russian economy grew and Moscow strengthened its position in international affairs, its activity in Iraq increased. This, not support for the regime, was the reason for the numerous contracts with the Iraqis, for whom it was simply profitable to work with Russian companies. It is still profitable, but whether they will be able to is a different matter.
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