Peacekeeping: June 1, 2004

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The United States is wary of getting the United Nations too involved in running Iraq. The main reason for this is the shady UNs reputation dealing with Iraqs oil wealth during the 1990s. In 1996, an Oil for Food (and medicine) program was established for Iraq (then under a UN embargo because of failure to comply with the agreement that ended the 1991 war.) A UN staff of some one thousand people supervised the program, taking a 2.2 percent fee. That amounted to $1.34 billion (for oil sales of $67 billion.) But it turned out that, despite this UN supervision, Saddam managed to divert $10 billion of this money in the form of kickbacks and bribes. Most of the money went, not for food or medicine, but for good and materials to prop up Saddams control over Iraq. This included the building of over a dozen palaces and buying weapons and luxury goods. In northern Iraq, in the Kurdish region, Britain and the United States controlled the distribution of the oil for food money. The Kurds did much better economically in the 1990s. Most Iraqis noted what was going on, and blamed the UN.

Corruption in UN peacekeeping efforts is not unusual, and it should not be unexpected. The UN, being representative of its members, is basically a corrupt organization. From the beginning, the UN leadership realized that if they were to keep the organization functioning, they would have to play along with how the larger members liked to conduct their business. This began with such seemingly innocent practices as allocating jobs in proportion to the size of the various major members. This then led to UN employees sponsored by major nations becoming difficult to dismiss without permission from their sponsors. Thus protected, some of these employees went into business for themselves via embezzlement, kickbacks and sweetheart deals. This extended to peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. This lax and larcenous attitude is one reason why the United States does not like to get involved with UN peacekeeping operations. The Iraqi Oil for Food program brought out the worst in many of the UN officials involved, and the Iraqis will not soon forget.

 


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