Both the Clinton and Bush administrations turned a blind eye to illegal sales of Iraqi oil to Jordan and Turkey in order to maintain close ties to the two Middle Eastern Allies.
Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, said last year that Iraq’s smuggling to and from neighbouring countries was by far the largest source of revenue for Mr Hussein’s regime, accounting for $8bn (£4.2bn) out of $11bn. Its single biggest source of illicit income was trade with Jordan, at least until 2000, after which trade with Syria and Turkey grew in importance.
In December 1998, the State Department under Bill Clinton’s presidency told Congress: “Despite United Nations Security Council resolutions banning Iraqi oil imports (except under the terms of the oil for food resolutions) Jordan has continued to import oil from Iraq.”
But it said continued US assistance would provide the Jordanian government with “some flexibility to pursue policies which are of crucial importance to US objectives in the Middle East”, including the Middle East peace process.
That sent a message that the smuggling would be tolerated. The wording of a letter in 2002, despite being issued under President George W. Bush, was almost identical. It noted the waiver had been given to Jordan every year since 1991, when UN sanctions were imposed on Iraq.
“Providing the planned assistance will bolster the Jordanian government in its commitment to participate in . . . co-operation with the US in supporting regional security and stability, co-operation with Israel . . . and promoting democratic reforms,” it said.
Similarly, in 1998 the State Department said: “Turkey permits the importation of a limited amount of diesel oil from Iraq and Turkish trucks carry goods into northern Iraq.”
But it added that with the exception of “this local trade”, the fellow Nato-member had been an imp-ortant ally in enforcingthe embargo, which hadcost it $22bn in lost trade.
US assistance should continue since Turkey promoted “security, prosperity and other vital US interests”.
In 2002, as the illegal trade with Turkey grew, the State Department wrote: “The government of Turkey permits the importation of oil from Iraq and private Turkish entities provide non-lethal goods and cash to Iraq.”
But again, providing aid was in the national interest because Turkey was an ally in the war on terror as well as a secular democracy in a region of “weak economies, political instability, shaky democratic traditions and ethnic strife”.
It’s no wonder the Bush administration has refrained from pushing the Oil for Food story. They were complicit in providing Saddam with an illicit revenue stream.