Despite Saddam Hussein’s offer to let UN inspectors back into Iraq, the U.S. may not back down, so we may go to war with Iraq anyway. Saddam can afford to fight back: he gets his hands on as much as $3 billion a year, which he uses to maintain and develop weapons of mass destruction, despite UN sanctions imposed in the early 1990s. The funds come from oil smuggling and surcharges on the oil Iraq is allowed to sell under UN auspices.
Amatzia Baram, a Israeli leading expert on Iraq, says Saddam has obtained around $1 billion from the smuggling of Iraqi oil through Jordan, Turkey and Syria. He thinks Iraq receives a total of between $2.5 billion and $3 billion per year and says, “This is a tremendous amount of money. Saddam doesn’t have to invest one penny in Iraq. All this comes from the cash register in the UN.” Baram says the UN oil-for-food program pays for all the humanitarian aid for Iraq, leaving Saddam free to use the funds he gets illegally to produce weapons. The whole point of the UN control over Iraq?s oil was to prevent weapons production, but this clearly is not working.
Baram says Saddam has struck a deal with Syria to buy smuggled oil. “The Syrians use the Iraqi oil for their domestic needs and sell their own oil on the foreign market,” he says. “This way, they can tell the United States that they aren’t violating UN sanctions.”
Saddam says he?s impoverished by a shortfall in UN funds and has used this excuse to implement starvation policies in the Shi’ite areas in the south. “What Saddam doesn’t have is enough money needed to bribe Russians to sell him nuclear weapons or material,” Baram says. On the eve of war, we can only hope that?s true.
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