Small World

Jewish World Review July 25 , 2000 / 22 Tamuz, 5760

Saddam's Cruel
Drug Scam

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- IF THERE EVER WERE an award for dictatorial chutzpah, Iraq's Saddam Hussein would be the hands-down winner.

The Butcher of Baghdad constantly whines that United Nations sanctions are depriving his "starving, dying people" of the food and medicine they desperately need.

But it turns out that Saddam's own Health Ministry has been hoarding enormous quantities of the medical aid allowed into Iraq and not distributing these humanitarian materials to the Iraqi pharmacies, clinics and hospitals urgently in need of them.

The reason for the hoarding, say senior Middle East intelligence sources: Saddam's health minister keeps the medicines under wraps until shortages push prices up on the black market, then sells the medicines to black-market profiteers who pay for them in foreign currency rather than Iraqi dinars.

This hard currency is then used to pay for government purchases that bypass the sanctions that have been in place since the Gulf War, as well as for luxury goods for Saddam's ruling clique.

These same intelligence sources tell me they've long suspected this, but now they have proof. A burst sewage pipe flooded several government warehouses in Baghdad's Al-Nasser Square recently and damaged huge amounts of hoarded medicines, part of the UN's oil-for-food-and-medicines arrangement.

The flooding occurred just before the government was about to float some of its drug cache onto the market, causing not only a loss of some $33 million, but an even more severe shortage of medicines available to the Iraqi public.

So what does Saddam do? He orders his Health Ministry not to request fresh supplies from the UN lest its inspectors enter the damaged warehouses and see for themselves what he and his merry band of black marketers have been up to.

Of course, someone's got to be held responsible, so Saddam has Ahmad Abd el-Hadi, the man in charge of the damaged warehouses, executed and two deputy health ministers bounced from their jobs. The minister of health, Umid Midhat Mubarak, one of Saddam's buddies, sits safe.

This corruption has its roots in the post-Gulf War failure to bounce Saddam from power. Sanctions were slapped on Iraq instead, and Saddam was told they'd be lifted only when he complied with weapons inspections. Even then, the UN, led by the U.S., relented in 1996 and agreed that Iraq could sell some of its oil in exchange for foods and medicines — but not strategic supplies.

Now comes the real chutzpah: Saddam and his stooges throw the UN arms inspectors out and continue to whine that the oil-for-food-and-medicines program is a plot "to keep Iraq in a cage." To add insult to injury, an armed Iraqi mysteriously entered a UN aid office in Baghdad last month and shot it up, killing two and wounding seven.

And Saddam smiles knowingly when the rest of the UN's foreign personnel pack up and leave Iraq for their own safety.

In fact, the UN has long been aware that medical supplies don't reach the free market, but get "stuck" in warehouses. Just last year, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that $300 million worth of supplies and equipment were held up in warehouses because of Iraqi authorities' inability and lack of motivation to distribute them.

Remember that the next time you hear someone echo Saddam's whining about the hardships that sanctions impose on the Iraqi people.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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