Oil-for-food work left many dirty hands

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Tribune editorial staff

When the smoke is cleared over Iraq, chances are a number of countries will have egg on their face. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to refer to the egg as oil - dirty, smuggled oil.

On Monday investigators released information with the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. The group had been studying the U.N.'s oil-for-food program with Iraq.

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The findings are amazing, but no surprise given former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s character, or lack thereof.

Investigators now allege that Iraqi hauled in more than $21 billion - that's billion with a "B" - in illicit revenue during the years Hussein's regime manipulated the plan.

The bad deals were done through kickbacks, surcharges and just good old-fashioned smuggling.

Some of Hussein's scams even involved the shipment of rotten food into the country as his own people struggled to subsist off the meager food they had.

In the grand scheme of things, smuggling, stealing and breaking international rules is nothing in comparison to the atrocities Hussein committed on his own people. From gassing Iraqi Kurds to the murder and mayhem he and his henchmen perpetrated throughout his years in power, Hussein's list of crimes is only eclipsed by the disgusting gall with which he performed the crimes against society.

Had Hussein been doing this to help support his people, pay for their food, clothes and medical attention, it might have been easy to look the other way.

But that's perhaps the most disgusting part: He wasn't generating the money for his people. He was generating it for himself.

More than $21 billion, the figure is staggering. How much food could that have purchased? How many Iraqis could have received proper medical care?

The list of "what ifs" could go on forever. But one thing is certain: Lots of folks who helped Hussein have oil on their faces and blackness in their hearts.

And that kind of mess may be difficult to wipe off anytime soon.