London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Iraqi Minister of Planning, Dr. Barham Salih, stated that "the UN bears significant responsibility in the food-for-oil program corruption scandal," and called for the persons and companies involved to be tried. Salih said in an interview with Asharq al-Awsat in London while on a state visit to the UK with the regional President of Kurdistan in Iraq, Mas”ud Barzani, that the problem of corruption in Iraq still exists and described it as being "a cancer that is attacking the Iraqi political body." He demanded that the corruption scandal not be politicized, stating that this is "corruption in itself."
Salih acknowledged that the Iraqi Government "has not yet studied the details of the Volker Report but that the report itself is very important because it sheds light on the scandalous events surrounding Iraq”s resources." He added, "this program was designed to help Iraqis but that the maneuverings of the former regime and the indifference of the UN and even some factions in the international organization constitute a part of the regime”s dishonest behavior that resulted in depriving the Iraqi people of these resources and in the squandering of public funds. Iraq must be compensated." He called for "the prosecution of the companies and the parties responsible for the dissipation of Iraqi public funds and for the necessity of the Iraqi Government to take a clear and unequivocal position on the matter so that we can defend the interests of our citizens."
Salih announced that he had consulted international law firms about the prospects of prosecuting those responsible for the scandal and about the demand for appropriate compensations. He explained, "from a legal point of view, international law has been violated and there have been clear resolutions from the UN Security Council specifically regarding the administration of Iraqi funds. The authorities responsible for this not only bear a moral responsibility but a financial one also."
Salih is well known for his statement, while serving as Iraq”s Deputy Prime Minister in Iyad Allawi”s government, that corruption in Iraq presents a problem as significant as that of terrorism. When asked about this phenomenon he stated emphatically that "it still exists." He demanded that Iraqi political factions confront corruption because it is "a cancer that is attacking the Iraqi political entity and it will require persistence and cooperation in dealing with it."
He added that "corruption is sometimes politicized but this in itself is corruption and leads to its increase." He advocates leaving the treatment of corruption outside of the political framework, noting that there are avenues that may be resorted to in order to remedy corruption. "There is an impartial international commission and an international oversight agency, moreover we shall have an elected national assembly that will serve for four years after the upcoming elections and it will be necessary for the assembly to cooperate with the international community to fight corruption."
The Iraqi Planning Minister gave details about the funds allocated to Iraq at the Madrid Donors” Conference in 2003, saying, "The donations (grants) did not reach expected levels." He explained that "the largest portion of the donations (a total of $32 billion) came from the United States but unfortunately, the lion”s share of that was apportioned to security measures. As for the other grants, there has been no disbursement of the money requested." He added that some nations give excuses related to the security situation but in reality, Iraq did not receive what it had been promised. He continued to state that his government demanded from "contributing nations at the Dead Sea Conference that they disburse the lion”s share of these donations to Iraq instead of funding the administration of projects outside the country."
Regarding American donations that amounted to some $20 billion, the Planning Minister said "they were apportioned to various civil and government projects and we are in discussions with the American parties about having Iraqi companies directly carry out these projects so that the Iraqi economy would have the majority of these funds, instead of working through foreign companies." He explained in the course of the discussion that Iraq is in the process of discussing the possibility of obtaining more grants from America.
The Planning Minister said that Iraq was attempting to persuade neighboring countries to cancel Iraqi debts since a number of foreign countries have already done so. He added that "we expect aid and assistance from these countries for the Iraqi people; Iraq is indebted to neighboring countries by $120 billion." He continued, "It would have been better for these friendly nations have put forth initiatives to assist Iraq."
Salih spoke about a comprehensive plan devised by his ministry to conduct a nation-wide census in Iraq at the beginning of October 2007. He explained that the census would coincide with the issuance of a "standardized civilian identity card for every Iraqi to provide security, economic, and even electoral statistics." Salih said that the identity card would use biometrical data and the personal identification for each Iraqi.