View Full Version : Saddam's Useful Idiots

John Ashcroft
03-17-2004, 02:50 PM
A year ago John Kerry described the nations that would liberate Iraq as a "coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted." It turns out that may be a better description of his own antiwar camp. From Jacques Chirac's and Vladimir Putin's political cronies to Tony Blair's own Labour Party, many of the most vocal opponents of enforcing U.N. resolutions turn out to have been on the take.

Were some of the most vehement and prominent American critics of the war similarly bought and paid for? There's no hard evidence to support such a conclusion, but it's a possibility worthy of investigation following the appearance of a politically connected Detroit-area businessman on a recently published list of individuals receiving oil money from Saddam Hussein.

After all, it's the "seriousness of the charge", right my liberal friends?

Shakir al-Khafaji's close ties to Iraqi Baathists and Michigan Democrats are a matter of public record. In late January the al Mada newspaper in Baghdad published his name on a list of 270 individuals, companies, churches and political parties that Iraqi Oil Ministry documents allege benefited from Saddam's largesse. The Iraqi Governing Council has hired a team of professional auditors to investigate; some of the alleged beneficiaries have already confessed.

This wasn't the first time I'd heard Mr. al-Khafaji mentioned in connection with clandestine oil profits. In Baghdad last May, a man I'll call Omar, a newly unemployed officer of the Iraqi intelligence service (the Mukhabarat), leveled the same accusation. He also alleged that some of the money had been intended to finance a documentary film by former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter and to influence Democratic congressmen, including former House Minority Whip David Bonior.

When I met Omar he was armed with references (which checked out) from foreigners he'd known in his last post, working for Mohammed al-Sahaf--a k a "Baghdad Bob"--at the Ministry of Information. He accurately described Mr. al-Khafaji's service as chairman of regular pro-Saddam Iraqi "Expatriate" conferences. He noted his close contacts with high-level Baath officials such as Tariq Aziz, and told me how Mr. al-Khafaji had brought Mr. Ritter to Iraq in 2000 to make a documentary about the damaging effects of economic sanctions and how Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

But Omar went further, saying Iraqi authorities had arranged for oil transfers to Mr. al-Khafaji to finance all this activity. Omar said proceeds from the sales were to be transferred to an account controlled by one of Mr. al-Khafaji's brothers in Jordan, where they would be less likely to attract the scrutiny of U.S. authorities. Some of the money was intended for Mr. Ritter's film. Other funds, Mr. al-Khafaji allegedly told Tariq Aziz, would go to finance the elections of Democratic congressmen in order that they "would be a lobbyist for Iraq." Omar named Mr. Bonior and Rep. John Conyers. I pressed him as to whether he could be certain any transfers were ever made. No, he conceded, "maybe he was plotting to take the money for himself."

Mr. al-Khafaji denied receiving any oil allocations as alleged by Omar and the Iraqi Oil Ministry documents when I spoke with him last month and again last Wednesday. He also denied making any improper political contributions. "All these allegations have been investigated by the federal government to death and they found nothing wrong," he said. But he did acknowledge having two brothers by the names Omar gave me in relation to the alleged Jordanian bank account, as well as his relationships with Mr. Ritter and the congressmen. In fact, much of the picture Omar painted for me--entirely unprompted; the name al-Khafaji meant nothing to me at the time--is backed up by publicly available information. Other details have been confirmed by interviews and research over the past 10 months. At a minimum, it seems some of Mr. al-Khafaji's U.S. associates were useful idiots for a close ally of a totalitarian regime.

Let's start with Mr. Ritter, the former weapons inspector who resigned in 1998 to protest the Clinton administration's weakness in the face of the cat-and-mouse games Saddam was playing with his team. Sometime thereafter Mr. Ritter did an about-face on the nature of the Iraqi weapons threat. Not only has he never explained his change of views, he implausibly maintains they have been consistent all along.
Mr. Ritter acknowledges taking $400,000 from Mr. al-Khafaji to produce the documentary in question, "In Shifting Sands." He acknowledges Mr. al-Khafaji's "instrumental" role in arranging his visit and interviews, as well his September 2002 address to Saddam's rubber-stamp parliament. He acknowledges that Mr. al-Khafaji was "openly sympathetic with the regime in Baghdad." But Mr. Ritter says he took extensive precautions to satisfy himself that Mr. al-Khafaji's investment in his film came from clean money and was not regarded as some sort of "quid pro quo."

Omar is not the only Iraqi intelligence source to suggest some of that money may have come courtesy of Saddam. At about the same time I was talking to Omar, London's Daily Telegraph reported the discovery at Iraqi intelligence headquarters of a file referring to the "Scott Ritter Project." The file referred to the purchase of gold jewelry intended for Mr. Ritter's wife and daughter, jewelry that was to be delivered by--guess who?--Shakir al-Khafaji. "The correspondence discussed further ways to come up with money to offer to Mr. al-Khafaji to cover his travel costs," reported the Telegraph. "One letter requests approval to make funds available by siphoning profits from an oil deal, apparently controlled by Iraqi intelligence."

Mr. Ritter spoke with me cooperatively and at length last month. He acknowledged an incident like the one described in the Telegraph, though he says the gifts were offered by someone other than Mr. al-Khafaji, and that he refused them and reported the incident to the FBI on his return. He described the $400,000 not as a grant but as an "interest-bearing loan" from Mr. al-Khafaji's Falcon Management to his own Five Rivers Productions. He said none of the money will probably be repaid because the movie failed to make money. He said the deal was carefully lawyered and information regarding the loan was "voluntarily and proactively provided" to the FBI and Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, who at no time expressed any concern about a violation of U.S. law.

As to the documentary's content, Mr. Ritter is unrepentant: "I could understand people even bothering to call me if we had found weapons of mass destruction. . . . Excuse my language here, but who the f--- was right?" Mr. Ritter would seem somewhat vindicated on the WMD issue, but it remains a mystery how and when he decided that the weapons did not exist. "Iraq today is not disarmed and remains an ugly threat to its neighbors and to world peace," Mr. Ritter told a Senate committee--under oath--in September 1998.

As for the Democratic congressmen, Mr. al-Khafaji was indeed financing elections, as Omar said--at least in the small amounts permitted by campaign finance law. Public records show a contribution of $500 in 1992 and $1,000 in 1999 to Mr. Conyers, an early and vocal proponent of lifting sanctions on Saddam. Mr. Conyers said through a spokeswoman that he has no recollection of ever having met Mr. al-Khafaji.

Mr. al-Khafaji was a much more regular contributor to Mr. Bonior: $1,000 in 1994, $250 in 1996, $500 and $1,000 in 1998, $1,000 in 1999, $1,000 in 2000, and $1,000 each from Mr. al-Khafaji and his wife in 2001. Mr. Bonior called the suggestion he'd received anything other than legal political contributions from Mr. al-Khafaji "absolutely preposterous and false." Mr. Bonior, until 2002 the second-ranking Democrat in the House, was one of the chief congressional critics of U.S. Iraq policy, calling the sanctions "infanticide masquerading as policy." It's worth noting that many "hawks" agreed that sanctions were morally problematic, but favored regime change instead of retreat.

As war loomed in September 2002, Mr. al-Khafaji escorted Mr. Bonior on a high-profile trip to Baghdad, along with Washington Rep. Jim McDermott and California Rep. Mike Thompson. Mr. Bonior, whose office handled the arrangements, told me last month that Mr. al-Khafaji "was part of the trip and he obviously knew people, and he was connected quite well so we could get the meetings that we wanted." Mr. McDermott's spokesman likewise recalls that Mr. al-Khafaji played a central role, adding that a Michigan-based charity called Life for Relief and Development organized and paid everything. Mr. al-Khafaji told me that he'd been a financial supporter of that organization, too, though he said he couldn't remember how much--not even ballpark--he'd given over the years.

The trip proved something of a propaganda coup for Saddam, with Mr. McDermott suggesting in a televised interview from Baghdad that President Bush "would mislead the American people" while saying "I think you have to take the Iraqis at face value." Mr. al-Khafaji seems to have taken a particular shine to Mr. McDermott, resulting in another contribution--$5,000--to a legal defense fund that had been set up for the congressman in an unrelated case. "He's a friend and he gives me money," Mr. McDermott told Roll Call in February 2003.

The al-Khafaji trail stretches as far as South Africa, where his family's Falcon Trading Group is incorporated and sold food and dry goods to the Saddam regime. A South African paper has reported that Falcon traded upward of $50 million worth of commodities with Iraq since 1993. Recent articles in the South African press say Mr. al-Khafaji facilitated the Iraq visits of top government officials, possibly influencing that country's pro-Saddam stance. They also name him as a beneficiary of an Iraqi oil deal through a South African company--Montega Trading--in which he was allegedly a partner. Montega appears on the Iraqi Oil Ministry list, but Mr. al-Khafaji denies that he was ever a partner or "anything else" in Montega.

It should be reiterated that there is no hard evidence of any wrongdoing on Mr. al-Khafaji's part. Federal authorities were aware, to some degree at least, of his Iraq-related activities. It is possible that he trucked extensively with a corrupt regime while keeping his own hands clean. But a few things are clear. First, he was a well-connected fixer when it came to dealings with Saddam's regime, able to arrange meetings with the likes of Tariq Aziz at the drop of a hat. Second, Iraqi intelligence, rightly or wrongly, perceived him as at least a potential asset. Third, he was intimately involved in facilitating the Iraq trips of some of the most prominent American critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
If there's no fire with all this smoke, as everyone involved maintains, then surely they will welcome the scrutiny it deserves. The U.S. Treasury says it is aware of the Iraqi Oil Ministry documents, and is looking into the matter.

Link: here (http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110004822)

03-17-2004, 06:39 PM
I think Saddam sent Teddy Kennedy a case of Chivas. :D

04-19-2004, 09:13 PM

Liberia...of course!