AWB Overboard

I’ve always thought that the Oil-For-Food scandal and the parallel scandal (promoted mainly on the left of the blogosphere) about corruption in Iraq’s postwar reconstruction were overblown. Under the circumstances, corruption was inevitable in both cases.If you supported feeding Iraqi children or attempting to repair the damage caused by the war, you had to expect, as part of the overhead, that those with power in Iraq would seek to skim money off the top, and that they would find willing accomplices in this task. Having said all that, corruption shouldn’t be passively accepted. It’s a crime and, wherever they can be caught, those guilty of it should be punished.

By far the biggest fish to be caught in the net so far is Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter, AWB, which was, until 1999, the government-owned Australian Wheat Board. It has become evident that AWB paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Saddam’s regime, and it has now been stated in evidence that the deals in question were discussed with Australia’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer.

Based on past experience, particularly the Children Overboard case, we can be pretty confident of the following

* Both Downer and Howard knew that the AWB was paying kickbacks to the Iraqi regime

* This information was transmitted in a way that preserves deniability, so no conclusive proof will emerge

* No government minister will resign

* Endless hair-splitting defences of the government’s actions in this matter will emerge from those who have previously made a loud noise about Oil for Food.

On the point of resignation, I’d note that the information that had come out before today, showing the AWB up to its neck in corruption, would have been enough, under any previous government to require ministerial resignations, on the basis of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. But that doctrine is now obsolete in Australia. If anything short of a criminal conviction is considered sufficient to justify an enforced resignation under present conditions, I’m not aware of it.

“Gandhi” has a bit more

150 thoughts on “AWB Overboard

  1. “An ungovernable beast must be stinted of his provender that he may be better managed” – Queen Elizabeth’s response to the Earl of Essex’s request for an extension of his sweet wine monopoly.

    I keep this quote in my diary.

  2. Most enterprises which are producing supernormal profits (and plenty that aren’t) face conflicts between shareholder’s interests and attempts by managers to appropriate profits for their own benefit.

    Christopher Skase and Alan Bond are two dramatic exampels of this. John Elliot, while not breaking any law, made quite a few million dollars for himself and fellow Elders directors by putting throguh a bonus share scheme which issues fully-paid shares to executives on their partly-paid incentive scheme shares.

    The general outcome is neither that all the monopoly profits go to shareholders or that all of them flow to management. Rather there’s a cosntant tug-a-war over how to divide up the cake.

    In the case of AWB, you could probably reduce the temptation for management to siphon off some profits by allowing soem competition without seriously compromising the monopoly profits.

    CBH and ABB (formerly the Australian Barley Board) are probably big enough ands sophisticted enough to get similar or better export grain prices than those achieved by AWB.

    Current legislation seems to allow other companies to seek access to the wheat export market even though the specific CBH proposal failed.

    This potential contibility of the AWB monopoly may produce an economic outcome superiior both to a total monopoly and a completely deregulated free market.

  3. Gary, you noticed before I could get back on to the Board and point out that this did indeed come from the Volcker Report. Thank you.

    John was gracious enough to acknowledge that too, which is civil and courteous.

    John, I do not really understand why noting the millions of untranslated Iraqi Government and Ba’athist documents apparently fails your ‘primary source’ criteria. They are by definition the very best of primary sources, and they will take years to dredge through. Scholars still have thousands of shelf metres of untranslated material in Spanish archives, for example, dating back to the 16th century, and none of which has been opened since it was placed there. That, among historians at least, qualifies as ‘primary source documentation’.

    The barest skim of these diocuments, after all, gave us this:

    Zeyad, at Healing Iraq translated the names of the 270 recipients from Arabic. So far BBC, NY Times, LE Monde, al Jazeerah, etc. have not reported this. (Update: Slings and Arrows also has translated list, from MEMRI.)

    Zeyad (
    “dug up the list of [270] companies, politicians, and organizations from 51 countries that had received bribes in oil from the former regime [Saddam] in return for their ‘services’ in defending the regime and opposing the US campaign against him.”

    See also:


  4. “Katz, the AWB payments were approved by the UN, should they also be held to account?”

    When you say “they” I presume you mean the responsible officer(s) for the UN (unless of course you may recommend tearing down the UN Headquarters in the same way Israeli forces tear down Palestinians’ houses as a form of collective retribution).

    Thus, assuming you mean the former:

    If the UN officer(s) overseeing the AWB transactions knew that, or connivingly, or recklessly ignored the fact that the transactions were dishonest, then that person, or persons, should be held accountable.

    I’d expect persons or persons in DFAT, and in the Federal Ministry, to be also held accountable under the same circumstances.

  5. Mark L: “John, I do not really understand why noting the millions of untranslated Iraqi Government and Ba’athist documents apparently fails your ‘primary source’ criteria. They are by definition the very best of primary sources, and they will take years to dredge through.”

    Mark, until they are translated though we don’t know whether they support the claims of high-level French and UN complicity or not.

  6. MarkL, feel free to point to contrary evidence, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find the list of names you refer to was released by Chalabhi, which means its credibility is zero.

    In any case, returning to the point of the post, it’s pretty obvious that at people in the UN and in many governments were aware that scamming was going on. In particular, it’s clear that the Australian government knew it, and knew or should have known that it was going on wrt the AWB wheat deals and did nothing about it.

    Its equally clear that nothing is going to be proved except in the unlikely event that “I don’t know” Lindberg rolls over, which is only likely to happen if he’s charged with perjury.

  7. John, your squirmings here are amusing and most entertaining, but do not befit the dignity of a professor, surely?

    ‘Released by Chalabi… credibility zero.’ Not according to the below. And if a document from the Iraqi Oil Ministry archive (one of the primary sources you so ardently seek, old chap!) were released by Chalabi, how on earth does mere handling of a document by a bad bugger invalidate it, when you have a copy of the original to peruse as well?

    Unless it is all a CIA-MOSSAD Zionist plot, of course.

    Thursday, January 29, 2004
    The mother of all scandals
    Tim Blair brought this to my attention yesterday and I dug up the list of companies, politicians, and organizations from 51 countries that had received bribes in oil from the former regime in return for their ‘services’ in defending the regime and opposing the US campaign against him.

    These shady deals were all done under the auspices of the UN and the Oil for Food program. The bribes add up to a total of 3.3 billion barrels of Iraqi crude oil (worth over 70 billion dollars). Here is the translated list. And here the original in Arabic. *

    Now you know why Iraqis suffered from the UN sanctions. Now you know why hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children had to die during the last ten years. Now you know why those people were vehemently anti-war.

    The list was published in Al-Mada, an independent Iraqi newspaper, it was leaked from the Ministry of Oil archives. There may be a few errors in my translation, so if you can find any of these please point them out to me so I can make the proper corrections.

    Here are some links on the story. From Reuters, commercial appeal, New York post, and the Seattle Post. Sam also posted about it here.

    # posted by Zeyad : 1/29/2004 07:47:23 PM

    So, does a translation of a primary source document given to an Iraqi BLOGGER and translated by him fit your highly mobile motorised goalposts? Or is it perhaps invalid because the Assyrian Emperors (swine to a man) ruled in Iraq some millennia ago? Yes, I am laughing at you.


  8. You sound like a pretty gullible sort of chap, MarkL.

    Which is good, really, because I’ve got a copy of Jesus’s diary for sale, and I think you might be interested. It sheds a whole new light on the New Testament, because it comes from the original source. I haven’t had it translated yet, but, boy, this one is big. Trust me.

  9. Mark L, just to be sure we are talking about the same Ahmed Chalabi, aren’t we?. The one who gave the US all that valuable intelligence on WMDs and also (at least according to the US) fed information to the Iranians? The one who’s wanted in Jordan for fraud? The one who’s under investigation for stealing Iraqi oil money himself?

    You don’t think there’s anything a teensy bit suspicious about an “Oil Ministry document” produced by Chalabi that just happened (at the time) to be a perfect fit with his political needs, just like the Curveball intelligence on WMDs?

    I think you should stick to the untranslated documents. At least there’s some chance they’re the real thing.

  10. Mark L: So, does a translation of a primary source document given to an Iraqi BLOGGER and translated by him fit your highly mobile motorised goalposts?

    You’re joking right?

    If I found an Iraqi blogger who claims to have documentary proof that the Americans are kidding Iraqi children and selling them to “the Jews” for use in our unholy blood-feasts, would you believe that?

    Let’s look at the internal credibility of those claims – “bribes” worth 3.3 BILLION barrles of oil?

    Iraq’s post-Gulf War production never exceeded 2.5 million barrels per day, that’s TOTAL production of less than a billion barrles per year – 1.5 million barrels per day of that was sold via oil for food and spent to buy food and medicine etc..

    So that leaves around 500,000 barrels per day – circa 180 million barrels per year.

    In other words, in the five years of oil for food, Saddam paid out 18 years worth of excess oil production in bribes?

    (Never mind that the bribery schemes didnt actually involve giving people barrels of oil, they involved giving people the permits to purchase Iraqi oil – which were worth about US$1-2 per barrel.)

  11. Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff…

    The saga over the bribes paid by the monopoly wheat exporter, AWB, has a fair way to run yet. Beyond saying that there is a lot that looks very smelly about the affair, I’ll wait until more evidence comes out before making more comment. However…

  12. MarkL says,
    ‘Now you know why Iraqis suffered from the UN sanctions. Now you know why hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children had to die during the last ten years.’

    If I recall, it was for the mostly non-existent WMDs and replacing Saddam with a more reliable ‘iron-fist’, by way of deliberately inflicting suffering on ordinary Iraqis. That was the real scandal. Not who was lining their pockets with tidy little profits, which in neo-liberal circles is usually seen as cause for celebrating the wonderous workings of the ‘market’.

  13. Why has this turned into a partisan rant against the UN when the UN were not the ones doing the bribing? It was Iraqi money collected from selling about $6 billion in oil for food and medicine for over 20 million people – that is about $180 per year per person or 50 cents per day to feed, clothe and supply medicine to sick kids.

    The entire Food for Oil was revolting and should never, ever have been inflicted on those poor people but was started as a humanitarian enterprise to stop 4 million people starving to death while Clinton and the horrid Madeline Albright let them and thought it was worth the price.

    When the AWB started to inflate their prices by up to 30% just to keep the contract the iraqi people could buy 30% less wheat because the amount of money they were allowed to spend stayed the same regardless.

    When the AWB did this they were stealing directly from the Iraqi people not the UN. The UN clearly weren’t told of the inflations, the AWB covered it up.

    And didn’t send any of the documents now being uncovered to the UN in the first place so it is a miracle that Volker managed to find the corruption.

    At the same time the AWB were stealing from the Iraqi people two other things were happening. Refugees were finding ways to escape and some 5,000 of the poor sods came here and were locked up like animals out in the desert while others were the parents in the children not thrown scandal.

    We were managing the blockade in 2002 onwards until the sanctions were lifted so we had no difficulty getting the ships to ports.

    Then the AWB were paying the bribes out of the pockets of farmers so they were stealing from everyone they were supposed to be helping.

    If our wheat is worth buying we shouldn’t have to pay people to buy it should we? And by the way. Caroline Overington who doing a wonderful job of reporting the ins and outs told me some weeks ago that the UN milled and delivered the wheat – no outside companies were allowed to. So we stole from the UN as well, not the other way around.

    Those who trash the UN have to remember that the security council is not the general assembly – it is five permanent members who do the corrupting.

  14. On the subject of Security Council corruption: there were three main avenues by which Saddam tried to get money during sanctions:

    1. Selling the permits to buy Iraqi oil;

    2. taking kickbacks from the contracts to supply goods under OFF (e.g. Australian wheat);

    3. illegally selling oil exported to Jordan by road.

    The third of these was the largest of the three by a wide measure, probably brining in $1-2 billion per year compared with probably a few hundred million year from 1 and 2 combined.

    Question 1: which Security Council member refused to act against because the smuggling (worth an estimated US$13 billion) because it was deemed to be in its “national interests” to do so?

    “Documents obtained by CNN reveal the United States knew about, and even condoned, embargo-breaking oil sales by Saddam Hussein’s regime, and did so to shore up alliances with Iraq’s neighbors.”

    (This was a bipartisan effort, both the Clinton and Bush Jr. Administrations were involved.)

    2. IN 2002, which Security Council members called for measures to stop oil smuggling from Iraq to Jordan:

    “Further measures to strengthen inspections could include… increase and diversification of staff and expertise; establishment of mobile units designed in particular to check on trucks; completion of the new system of aerial surveillance; systematic processing of data provided by the newly established system of aerial surveillance.”

    That’s from the joint memo from Russia, France and Germany expalinign their opposition to the use of force.

  15. As for the “Oil Ministry documents”, two newspapers which repeated their claims regarding George Galloway were successfully sued for libel by Galloway:

    On April 22, 2003, the Daily Telegraph published an article describing documents which the paper claimed had been found by its reporter David Blair in the ruins of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. The documents purport to be records of meetings between Galloway and Iraqi intelligence agents, and state that he had received £375,000 per year from the proceeds of the Oil for Food programme [52]. Galloway completely denied the story, insisted that the documents were forgeries, and pointed to the nature of the discovery within an unguarded, bombed-out building as being questionable. He instigated legal action against the newspaper, which was heard in the High Court from November 14, 2004 (HQ03X0206, George Galloway MP vs. Telegraph Group Ltd.) On December 2, Justice David Eady ruled that the story had been “seriously defamatory”, and that the Telegraph was “obliged to compensate Mr Galloway… and to make an award for the purposes of restoring his reputation”. Galloway was awarded £150,000 damages plus costs estimated to total £1.2 million. In UK libel cases, the winning party is also normally awarded costs, with the loser paying the bill. The court did not grant leave to appeal; in order to appeal in the absence of leave, the defendants would have to petition the House of Lords.

    The libel case was regarded by both sides as an important test of the Reynolds qualified-privilege defence [53]. The Daily Telegraph did not attempt to claim justification (a defence in which the defendant bears the onus of proving that the defamatory reports are true): “It has never been the Telegraph’s case to suggest that the allegations contained in these documents are true”. [54] Instead, the paper sought to argue that it acted responsibly because the allegations it reported were of sufficient public interest to outweigh the damage caused to Galloway’s reputation. However, the court ruled that, “It was the defendants’ primary case that their coverage was no more than ‘neutral reportage’ … but the nature, content and tone of their coverage cannot be so described.”

    than ten million dollars” from the Iraqi regime. However, on June 20, 2003, the Monitor ( article link[55]) reported that their own investigation had concluded the documents were sophisticated forgeries, and apologised. Galloway rejected the newspaper’s apology, asserted that the affair was a conspiracy against him, and continued a libel claim against the paper. The Christian Science Monitor settled the claim, paying him an undisclosed sum in damages, on March 19, 2004. [56] [57] It emerged that these documents had first been offered to the Daily Telegraph, but they had rejected them. The documents’ origin remains obscure.

    End quote

    The fact that Galloway was successful in his libel actions doesn’t prove the claims are false – under Brtiish law you can be found to have been libelled in soem circumstances even if the claims about you are proven to be true – it DOES prove that two major western newspapers with substantial resources and supposedly in contact with the sources of these documents were unable to prove the claims to be true even though they had a major finnacial incentive to do so.

  16. “Katz if you presume to know what I mean I can presume to know what you mean..? ‘


    (If you think that your contributions to this thread represent one side of an intelligent exchange, then your readers are warranted in presuming many things that are not necessarily favourable to you.)

  17. John, I was unaware that you had proof positive that this document was a forgery by Chalabi.

    I call bullsh*t. Please provide it and prove me wrong.

    I LOVE the way that, when untranslated (and inaccessable) it is apparently acceptable as a ‘primary source’, or ‘the real thing’, but when translated, it is an obvious fraud (not ‘the real thing’) – but only if it condemns those who star in your agenda. Why do I think you’d regard this document as genuine (and cry it to the heavens) of the first company name was ‘Halliburton’?

    How is it that you are so suspicious of this, and accept so readily accusations against others?

    Finally, you must be coming the raw prawn. There is no way you are silly enough, oh Professor, to think that if he was forging a document like this, that the first thing he’d do would be to include companies associated with Bush, Blair etc. Surely his Iranian masters would insist, even if he did not think of it himself?

    Yes, I am still laughing at you.


  18. Ian Gould,

    Nice work on your two previous posts.

    That info on the size of the smuggling operation through Jordan contextualises this debate, and is particularly damning of the Clinton and Bush administrations. This info relegates even the AWB to the status of petty crims.

    Ditto on Galloway.

    However, you can bet that Galloway will be a whipping boy of the Right for the forseeable future, especially when they are embarrassed by a countervailing truth.

    The Right’s mention of Galloway should henceforth be treated as prima facie evidence that they’ve stopped believing their own talking points.

  19. MarkL, you’re like Charlie Brown with the football. Chalabi is a proven fraudster on a whole range of issues. Yet when he comes up with a document with the same characteristics as all his previous frauds you say you’ll believe it in the absence of “proof positive” that it’s a fraud.

    It’s little wonder that you and people like you have been sucked in by obvious frauds on WMDs and (I’m guessing here, so prove me wrong) global warming denialism.

  20. MarkL and fellow travellers desperately wish to believe the claims by Chalabi and others to divert attention from the fact that those who were against the sanctions and the ensuing invasion pretty much had it right.

    I guess they strain to impute impure motives to those people in an effort to make themselves feel better about their own gullibility. It must make it more bearable to imagine they were right not because of any ability to think critically or independently, but because they were scammers looking out for number one who accidently found themselves on the side of the truth.

    Making as much noise as possible about the OFF scandal is preferrable to focus on much greater scandals of the false claims of WMD or how ordinary Iraqis were used as virtual hostages to get at Saddam (which of course had nothing to do with self-interest).

    The pro-war crowd will continue to grasp at the straws of Chalabi and his frauds, as well as other mirages such as untranslated documents.

  21. Katz, are we still talking about AWB?

    I am not sure what can be done to counter the culture of baksheesh, bribes, gifts or whatever you call them. If Australia was to adopt the high moral ground of no ex gratia payments they may well cut themselves out of the commercial field entirely, much to their competitors’ approval. Both the EU and the US have called for reform of state traders Canadian Wheat Board, the AWB and New Zealand’s Fonterra Cooperative Group which they claim are distorting the market.

  22. John, I have asked you to prove your assertion that Chalabi provided that document. I have provided you with a reference that it was given to an Iraqi Blogger, who translated it and posted it himself. You are saying that Chalabi gave it to Zeyad, and that therefore it is a fake.

    Who says so, aside from you? How do I know you are not simply feeding me a line of BS? You do not seem to have a solitary shred of evidence to back your opinion, after all.

    How do YOU KNOW Chalabi gave it to Zeyad?


    I think it is accurate because the subsequent investigations of some of the companies mentioned by national authorities involved have proven that yes, they were on the take. From similar sources, this includes the AWB, for God’s sake.

    That demolishes this nonsensical paragraph: “MarkL, you’re like Charlie Brown with the football. Chalabi is a proven fraudster on a whole range of issues. Yet when he comes up with a document with the same characteristics as all his previous frauds you say you’ll believe it in the absence of “proof positiveâ€? that it’s a fraud.”

    I can even name the logical syllogism you have committed here – can you? (Hint, use a dictionary to see what the big words mean)

    Then you rev up the goalposts again and charge off, with this hilarious twaddle “It’s little wonder that you and people like you have been sucked in by obvious frauds on WMDs and (I’m guessing here, so prove me wrong) global warming denialism.”

    Here you are desperately trying to shift ground. Let us deal with that later.

    I provided you with a document (in original Arabic and in translation) and with the required provenance. You ASSERT it is false. I ask for anything at all which proves your personal opinion on the matter to be valid. You try and change the subject.

    The strong odour of bovine excrement fills the air.

    I like this game, as all Uni professors as abysmally poor at debate and rational discussion as you are? I am getting very serious enjoyment out of this!


  23. Rog,

    There’s a baby and bathwater aspect to this issue. If Australian producers are happy marketing their wheat through a single desk, then it’s entirely up to their customers to decide that they don’t want to deal with them.

    As I understand it the genius of AWB marketing is that they buy and sell positions on the Chicago Grains Board.

    American wheat lobbyists claim that the AWB manipulates prices by using its enormous marketing power. Unstated is the direction of this alleged manipulation. Australian wheat producers would like the prices to be manipulated up. If AWB were capable of doing this, then all producers of wheat would be advantaged, both Australian and non Australian.

    On the other hand, this British academic claims that his research has shown that the AWB has in fact reduced the nett returns to Australian wheat producers.

    This may be a case of attempting to compare apples and oranges.

    The nature of the shareholdings in AWB also has to be taken into account.

    Many wheat growers are also shareholders. The profits made by AWB are the difference between buying the grain and sellingthe grain (after costs). This profitability determines the size of dividends and the price of the shares. Until the Iraq fiasco, these shares were doing quite well.

    The entire world can whinge as much as it likes about the way AWB markets Australian grain. Until buyers stop buying the grain they may as well be crying for the moon.

    The Iraq fiasco is something else again. If Howard or Downer or anyone else in government wish to come out and say “This is how business is done in the real world and we’re not apologising for it”, I’d applaud them for their courage and honesty.

    It would be the first time I applauded them for their honesty. Howard has demonstrated courage on occasion.

  24. Katz, I believe the vast majority of wheat farmers have elected to market their product through a single authority and that authority is the AWB who appear to be returning a good profit to their investors.

    The US is trying hard to gain access into Iraq yet despite the pressure the AWB claim to have maintained that market. It is difficult to see what advantage would be gained by breaking up the AWB.

  25. “It’s little wonder that you and people like you have been sucked in by obvious frauds on WMDs” –jquiggin

    Is this retroactive “SMARTNESS” on your pert. I don’t remember you being anti-GW2 because there was no WMDs. Chalabi was not the only source among others a certain ex Tasmanian GG.

    “and (I’m guessing here, so prove me wrong) global warming denialism.”

    Hey I believe in climate change but not in the Kyoto cult.

  26. Gary, I love it when people say the WMD thing was an ‘obvious fraud’.

    What I usually say is; ‘Cool! So you knew it was a fraud prior to the invasion then – show me where you said this’

    What follows is always the sound of crickets chirping.

    The same will be the case here, of course. It is the stance of the post-facto hindsight poseur. You get ’em all the time.

    Just as JQ will probably say utterly nothing to prove his statements concerning the list translated by Zeyad. It is BS, he knows it, and I know it. That said, I’d be delighted if he could prove anything like his assertion. It would cast some very interesting light on Chalabi’s relationship with the Iranians, and provide data I am not aware of.

    But I expect the usual silence of the factually challenged BS artist.


  27. Gary Says:

    Is this retroactive “SMARTNESS� on your pert. I don’t remember you being anti-GW2 because there was no WMDs. Chalabi was not the only source among others a certain ex Tasmanian GG.

    MarkL Says:

    Gary, I love it when people say the WMD thing was an ‘obvious fraud’.

    What I usually say is; ‘Cool! So you knew it was a fraud prior to the invasion then – show me where you said this’

    What follows is always the sound of crickets chirping.

    John Quiggin Says in December 2002:

    My take on Iraq

    I didn’t get as skeptical a reaction as I expected to my prediction of no war with Iraq, but I thought I’d try and explain my reasoning a bit further anyway. The short route to war would arise if it could be proved that Iraq’s declaration on WMDs contained significant falsehoods. Obviously, this would be true if the declaration failed to account for stocks of germ and chemical weapons that have been found in previous rounds of inspections. But precisely because this is obvious, it was never likely that the Iraqi government would be so stupid. The table of contents of the declaration, available from the NYT as a PDF file includes a chapter of 22 pages headed “Unilateral destruction of chemical agents, weapons and precursors”.

    A direct route to war would also arise if the US could prove that the Iraqis were lying, by pointing the inspectors to sites where weapons programs were underway. The dossiers that were being waved about a few months ago seemed to imply that the US Administration had direct evidence of particular sites being used for WMD production (remember all those grainy satellite photos). But now it appears that this was basically bluff. There could be a surprise in the next few days, but otherwise I think we have to conclude that the Administration doesn’t have the goods on Saddam.

    Several commentators have already raised the possibility that the US will invade Iraq anyway, either repudiating the UN resolutions or adopting some strained interpretation, such as attacks on planes enforcing the no-fly zone. The difficulty with this is the one that led Bush to go to the UN in the first place. No state in the region wants to be the springboard for an attack that will take place while inspectors are on the job in Iraq. Tony Blair might be willing, but he would almost certainly find it impossible to carry the British cabinet with him, and even Australia might refuse.

    The best option for the US, on this analysis is to wait and see what the inspectors turn up. So far they’ve been tackling the obvious options, but with larger numbers they’ll be able to look harder. And some scientist may defect or leak a relevant secret. There was a report a week or so ago, that they’d found some shells with precursors for mustard gas that were supposed to have been destroyed, but nothing much has come of this as yet, and the coverage implied that this it an oversight rather than a carefully concealed weapons cache.

    My guess, however, is that there may not be too much to leak. As far as I can tell, a nuclear weapons program can’t be hidden easily, and the last one was destroyed pretty thoroughly, so I’d guess that Iraq has given up on this line. As regards chemical and biological weapons, the rational thing for the Iraqi government would have been to destroy all the stocks, and have some trusted scientists memorise the recipes. It’s looking increasingly likely that this is what they’ve done. By contrast, the US Administration seems to have worked on the assumption that Saddam is crazy.

    If my analysis is right, the rational policy on Iraq’s WMD programs from this point on is continued containment, keeping inspectors and monitoring equipment in place indefinitely. The other plausible case for war, based on liberation of the Iraqi people from Saddam’s dictatorship, will have to wait for a more comprehensive approach to the Middle East including an imposed resolution to the Israel-Palestine problem.

    Gary and MarkL are gullible and, well, pretty stupid.

  28. Thanks SJ , John is one of the very few commentators that can honestly claim to have had a strong suspicion on the lack of WMD”s programs. That’s is all I was asking and I didn’t think John was stupid for not knowing about the document shredding.

  29. You’ll also notice that John wasn’t so sure about WMD’s and Saddam giving up on his ambitions to advocate dropping the sanctions.

  30. At the United Nations, the senior administrator under Kofi Annan has willfully and deliberately shredded documents that pertained to the greatest rip off in history and Annan lets him retire the same day that he notified Volcker of the document’s destruction. The records were so voluminous that it took seven months to shred them all and Annan professes he knows nothing about it… The responsibility stopped with Annan and for this if nothing else he should be forced to

  31. Snap.

    Thank you John, I knew you’d bite on the very first hint of a mention of WMD from me, even bringing up the post I thought you would. I also suspected that you’d go ad hominem pretty blatantly at about that time. Now please try to remember, dear chap, that ad hominem attacks “are the sign of a second rate mind.” (You may recognise the quote)

    Now that you have shown that you can actually dig back through your own material, how about the point I just had to nudge you back in to action on?

    Yes, about your assertion that Chalabi provided Zeyad with the list.

    Found your proof for that assertion yet?


  32. Mark,

    You’ve repeatedly called john a liar, sorry “BS artist”.

    You demand proof that he was skeptical of the existence of WMD before the invasion of Iraq.

    when provided with this proof, you refuse to even acknowledge it.

    You also chose to ignore my post where I demonstrated pretty clearly that your claims of $70 billion in bribes are wildly exaggerated.

    To be blunt, at this point I don’t think you merit any further response from anyone on this blog.

  33. If you trace MarkL’s “sources” back you’ll discover that his statement:

    “I provided you with a document (in original Arabic and in translation) and with the required provenance.”

    is absurd. All you’ll find is a list of names purported to have been translated from the Arabic.

    Let’s examine MarkL’s document

    If the individuals and groups on this list had negotiated oil deals with the Saddam regime, you’d expect to find individual contracts with their signatures on them. A document like that would be very damning evidence indeed. Who knows, one day such documents may turn up.

    But what of this list?

    What other information appeared on it? Did it have a heading? Did it have a date of compilation? None of these important attributes appears on the English translation.

    Who compiled this list? Is it a complete list of all parties who accepted oil coupon kickbacks from the Saddam regime? Who has been left off it?

    Assuming the individuals and groups named on the list were granted oil coupons, what purpose would this list serve? Why gather this information together on one document? Were these persons and groups the only recipients of oil coupons? Or were there others?

    George Galloway and Fawaz Zureikat are mentioned as recipients of coupons.

    In the translation their names are mispelled as “George Gallaway” and “Fawaz Rzeikat”. Try Googling the mispellings to see how this list meme has spread through the Right side of the Internet. it’s a fascinating study in groupthink.

    This site:

    provides chapter and verse on the subsequent career of Fawaz Zureikat,

    Briefly, you can read the circumstances behind the following statement;

    “US diplomatic sources confirmed yesterday [May 2005] that Mr Zureikat has been granted visas to visit the US since the war, and that there have been no US obstacles to the renewal of his commercial ventures in Iraq.”

    This is a very liberal attitude to a man who is supposed to have been a party to ripping off the Iraqi people, and who was supposed to have been instrumental in whipping up opposition to the US invasion of Iraq.

    Could it be that “US diplomatic sources” disbelieve the authenticity of the famous list by which MarkL sets so much store?

    The Oil Ministry was the only site guarded by US forces during the looting. Presumably, if the above mentioned individual contracts had existed, it would have been in the interests of the US to make them public, just as this famous list has been made public.

    Looks like MarkL’s provenance claims are pretty dubious.

    (Please note that I have not made any claims about who did compile this list.)

  34. As part of my general policy on discussion, I repeat my request to avoid calling other commenters “stupid” and similar terms. Show, don’t tell!

    MarkL, your trolling was amusing to start with, but I think we’ve all had enough. All further comments from you will be moderated. Factual arguments only, and no abuse of other participants, boasts about your own brilliance and so on, please.

  35. MarkL’s ‘list’ is an interesting one.

    It seems the original source is the Al-Mada newspaper(?), who claim it was a list produced by the Oil Ministry.

    As Katz noted, it has done the rounds of the right blogosphere. Interestingly the sites that MarkL linked to, have a variety of versions. One states that George Galloway recieved coupons for 1 milion barrels, another that it was 19 million.

    The list refers to the previous President of Indonesia as ‘the daughter of President Sukarno’. I wonder if the alleged contract put it that way!!

    The initial translation appears to have come from MEMRI. With its record of dodgy translations, it’s no wonder that it’s treated with caution. And after the trouble a few newspapers had with the last batch of forged ‘documents’ relating to claims about George Galloway, this one is being given a pretty wide birth by people who aren’t as credulous as MarkL.

  36. I’ve received another lengthy piece of trolling from MarkL, giving his lengthy summary of the thread above. The only substantive point is a request for evidence that the list was produced by Chalabi. The Wikipedia entry on Oil for Food states:

    ” The list came from over 15,000 documents which were reportedly found in the state-owned Iraqi oil corporation which had close links to the Iraqi Oil Ministry. The oil ministry was headed by allies of Ahmed Chalabi, controversial member of the Iraqi governing council who had been widely criticized for supplying the US with bogus information during the lead up to the war. Chalabi’s alleged involvement and the initial lack of corroborating evidence placed doubt on the accuracy of the al Mada list.”

    Anyone who wishes to is free to take this issue up at Wikipedia.

    Meanwhile, back in Australia, I’ve seen nothing to change the conclusions reached in the post.

  37. Michael H,
    Just one quick correction. Megawati Sukarnoputri is the daughter of Presiden Sukarno. Sukarno was the first president of Indonesia. He was succeeded (in dubious circumstances) by Presiden Suharto. Perhaps you got the two mixed up.
    Presiden Sukarnoputri’s name gives the game away – it means daughter of Sukarno.

  38. Andrew,

    It just struck me as an unusual way to refer to her. Given the potential time frame, it could have said , ‘President of Indonesia’. The alleged document in question referred to her twice, once by name and once as ‘daughter of…’.

    What continues to most interest me is the eagerness (desperation?) with which some people accept these kind of stories. There is a strong correlation between this and the depth of their belief in the WMD/bringing-democracy-to-Iraq story line. I think the appeal is that this bolsters their ‘everyone else was wrong too’ line(as MarkL tried to do re: JQ’s pre-war opinion). If they weren’t wrong, eg Galloway, then they were motivated only by personal gain, so have no moral standing on the issue and the MarkL’s then have no reason to feel discomforted by their own credulousness.

  39. Firstly, on the issue of whether or not it is ever OK for the AWB (or any other Australian companies/department/citizens/etc) to use bribery, I would think that anyone who has ever journeyed through Third World countries where such bribery is endemic will understand that we Australians do the poor citizens of such countries no favours at all by perpetuating the problem of entrenched corruption. For example, our trade with Saddam helped him stay in power, just as our trace with China helps them maintain repression. Those who argue that it is OK because it is “good for us Aussies” are probably the same people who think it is OK to invade oil-rich countries in order to seize their oil. We boast about spreading our enlightened “values” while those same values become a hollow memory.

    Secondly, as to whether the AWB and other trading monopolies are OK, I think that issue goes to the heart of the debate on capitalist globalization and the steady slide of Western governments towards outright Fascism. (Hal9000 got it right above) We, the people, need to see massive change if we are to recover our status as genuine democratic citizens, but it wont happen while the media is also in the pocket of Big Business.

    Finally, on the Chalabi issue, it’s generally forgotten that when Baghdad fell under US control there was a mad rush to seize Saddam’s financial records (forget the museums, etc). The USA was desperate to safeguard evidence of their own involvement in the oil-for-food scandals, while Chalabi and other Iraqis saw an opportunity to tuck a big political ace up their sleeves. So there were at least three groups racing around the burning streets of Baghdad searching for these records.

    From an old post on my blog (sorry for self-promo, but it includes URLs):

    Ahmed Chalabi hired an old friend from KPMG accountants, Mr. HANKES-DRIELSMA, to investigate where the funds went. But when Chalabi was busted in a CIA raid, the KPMG papers disappeared and Drielsma’s hard disc was smashed. The KPMG report was never released.

    Meanwhile, the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit had appointed international accountants Ernst and Young to perform a separate investigation. But in July 2004 Ihsan Karim, the Iraqi official heading the investigation, was killed in a mysterious bomb attack.

    It looked like the Bush Boyz had won the race. It wasn’t long before they started using the incriminatinn evidence against Kofi Annan and the UN, particularly invasion opponents France and Russia. Anna’s son was forced to resign. People like John Bolton were shouting that the UN was in urgent need of reform…

    It’s no suprise that Mark L begins his comments here with a lash at the UN and those same countries (Russia, France, Canada…) Given all the news reports about US PsyOps and paid-for-comment journalism, I can only wonder who Mark L is working for??? Full disclosure, Mark?

    PS: Iqbal Riza was a former Pakistani diplomat. One can only wonder on whose behalf he was working? He certainly was not operating at Kofi Annan’s instructions. And that has always been the real problem with the UN: excessive self-interested interference by member governments, particularly the USA.

    PPS: Those “as yet untranslated” papers, which Mark L claims as evidence, are also cited by Dick Cheney as “proof” that Saddam had WMDs. Makes you wonder exactly who is working on the translation of these docs… I mean, besides Iraqi bloggers!

  40. So, now we learn that the Government tried to cover up the AWB bribery scandal as if to ensure that their anti-Saddam Hussein credentials were not tarnished in the lead up to the 2004 elections.

    Again I ask :

    We aren’t we all demanding the immediate resignation of this utterly incompetent, bone lazy and despicable Government, which would never have lasted beyond 1998, if Australia’s newsmedia had done their job properly?

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