There is a large element of truth in the proposition that the Rwandans
have been doubly unlucky. First, through their geography and second,
because of the absence of oil there. Unfortunately for the Iraqis the
reverse of that proposition is the case.
What is now suggested about the situation in Iraq is that the United
States' imputed lust for oil trumps, on every count, the human rights
excesses of the sadistic Ba'athist regime and the perils presented to the
world by the serial recidivist, Saddam. Even the Sydney Morning Herald
editorialist has joined the chorus of "no blood for oil".
This claim does not withstand analysis. Its principal purpose appears
to permit the simultaneous preservation of what Tony Blair has rightly
called knee-jerk anti-Americanism while distracting discussion from the
truth of the Saddam regime. The English journalist Christopher Hitchens
has coined a new term for this - "subject change" - the
embarrassment created by too close exposure to, and concentration upon,
the true facts of the Iraqi regime, which is avoided by always changing
the subject to familiar anti-American nostrums. 'Regime change' is avoided
by 'subject change'.
There are two things to be said about this position. First, there is
nothing to be apologetic about for the protection of Western interests
against a madman who, left unchecked, stands to hold sway over not just
his own oil but all the oil in the gulf. The appeasement advocates may not
remember, but Saddam assuredly does remember all too keenly, the grudges
he bears against not just Iran but the Gulf states and the Saudis for
their earlier support of the coalition which ejected him from Kuwait.
However repulsive the Saudis are, if they are to be displaced it should
not be at the behest of Saddam.
Second, does anyone really believe that ordinary Iraqis gain or have
gained for decades, any benefits from that country's oil? The evidence of
Saddam's ransacking of his country's oil resources is available for anyone
with the inclination to discover it. He has not agonised about moral
dilemmas while he and his cronies have bled the Iraqi people white in the
systematic plunder of their oil resources.
The circumvention of the UN sanctions on oil sales outside the
terms of the1991 ceasefire agreement and the 1996 UN Food for Oil
agreement have become legion- and the main beneficiaries are Saddam,
his Ba'athist clique and its cronies. In this week's New York
Times an Iraqi functionary described it (privately of course)
as "gangster business, pure and simple".
But the breach of these recent post-Kuwait agreements represents
nothing more than business as usual for Saddam. According to forensic
accountants Kroll & Associates, since 1981 Saddam is estimated to have
diverted about $US1 billion from oil revenues for his personal use. Even
if this estimate is a gross exaggeration, it places the 'blood for oil'
argument in perspective.
Compared to Saddam, if the whole of the Iraqi oil industry was operated
by Texaco, the average Iraqi's life would be incomparably improved.
Indeed, if the former executives of Enron were given the task, their
rapaciousness would seem touchingly amateurish when compared with the
Corleone style of Saddam.
The truth about
the present state of the Iraqi oil industry is far more complex
than the 'blood for oil' crowd admit. An investment of $30-40 billion
is necessary in order to rehabilitate existing wells and develop
new oil fields. The international community should insist on Saddam's
departure as a condition of implementing any plan to bring these
resources to the point where they can deliver real benefits to all
It should be clear to all by now that the continued existence of the
Saddam regime and the delivery of benefits derived from its oil resources
to Iraqis are mutually incompatible.
Not content to plunder just the oil resources, UN humanitarian aid has
in more recent times become another source of personal enrichment for the
Saddam clique. Medical supplies have been diverted to the black market and
Saddam's grotesque number one son, the murderous Uday, has even been
implicated in the re-labelling and diversion for resale abroad of UN
supplied baby food.
The regime's crocodile tears shed for starving children are easily
exposed as gross hypocrisy. What is disturbing is the stubborn refusal of
so many in the West to recognise and appreciate the true implications of a
regime with Saddam's record armed with weapons of mass destruction.
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