The US and Britain are partly to blame for the scandal enveloping the UN oil-for-food programme, Secretary General Kofi Annan has said.
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein made billions of dollars smuggling oil in defiance of sanctions policed by the US and Britain, the UN chief said.
"The bulk of the money that Saddam [Hussein] made came out of smuggling outside the oil-for-food programme, and it was on the American and British watch," Mr Annan said.
An Iraqi oil field worker checks pipes at the West Qurna oil field in Iraq
Iraq made billions of dollars from illegal oil sales and bribes
"Possibly they were the ones who knew exactly what was going on, and that the countries themselves decided to close their eyes to smuggling to Turkey and Jordan because they were allies."
Oil shipments were openly sent from Iraq to Jordan and Turkey during the 1990s and were not intercepted, despite the US maintaining forces in the Gulf area.
The overland route from Iraq to Turkey was a very busy oil route, very clearly officially sanctioned by Turkey, says the BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul.
It is difficult to believe that the large US and UK embassies in Turkey would not have known that a large quantity of Iraqi oil was being smuggled across the border, our correspondent adds.
Mr Annan partly excused the smuggling to Jordan and Turkey, accepting that countries not under sanctions had a right to be compensated for any loss of trading income.
The Coalition have been aware of the problem, but before the Bush Administration decided to do something about it, it was considered a geopolitical faux pas to actually do something about the problem, especially if that would've entailed setting up inspections regimes backed by military force in nations that had not been party to the conflict.
Most interesting, of course, is the Secretary General's snide swipe: Possibly they were the ones who knew exactly what was going on, and that the countries themselves decided to close their eyes to smuggling to Turkey and Jordan because they were allies.
This is nothing more or less than engaging in conspiracy theory, a favorite tactic of the International Left, a projection of how they themselves would have acted. But the fact that the Secretary General of the United Nations, whose supporters demand that he get some respect, is the one publicly engaging in such conspiracy theorizing, is an egregious affront, not so much to the accused, who have had to parry away such irresponsible paranoia from other quarters, but to the very office of the Secretary General, because it is libel. At least when Hillary Clinton tried to blame all her troubles on "a vast rightwing conspiracy", she was not in office, so nobody had to take her seriously. But as the unofficial representative of the United Nations, the Secretary General should not be indulging in such farce.
The United Nations was founded on great ideals, but over the years, its political leadership has been worse than ineffective. Under Boutros-Ghali, the office of the Secretary General became impotent. Under Annan, it has become nothing more than a petty political office. In effect, his message is, I didn't pull the trigger, I didn't know my son had anything to do with the trigger even though he and my assistant were holding it right in front of my eyes, and in any case it's your fault for not stopping m-- I mean them!
The political arm of the United Nations cannot disappear fast enough for my liking.
Fortunately, the plucky Brits aren't taking this lying down. The Telegraph reports:
Britain has hit back at UN claims that it turned a blind eye to illegal oil smuggling during Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
Bill Rammel, the Foreign Office Minister, has insisted that Britain consistently upheld international sanctions against the Iraqi dictator.
Mr Rammell insisted that Britain had fully supported the sanctions regime.
He hit back at Mr Annan, saying that the UN needed to learn the lessons of the inquiry by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker into the oil-for-food programme.
"We have been co-operating fully with the Volcker inquiry. And what I do know is that his interim report actually makes criticisms of the UN management system and not of national governments," he said.
There have been allegations for years that Washington - which had ships in the Persian Gulf to intercept smugglers - looked the other way while some of Iraq's neighbours made substantial profits from oil smuggled out of Iraq.
Isn't it curious, by the way, that Annan thought that American ships could stop overland smuggling?
Anyway, three cheers to the Brits, who don't take that kind of libel without an answer. I'm afraid, though, my British friends, that protestations won't heal the United Nations. Do let's work together to dismantle it. The incongruity of Libya chairing the Human Rights Commission surely must grate at the sensibilities of all lovers of liberty.
[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]