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Iraqi UN Envoy Blames Former Secretary-General for ‘Oil-For-Food’ Failures

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations has charged that design flaws in the oil-for-food program allowed Saddam Hussein to easily manipulate it for his own purposes.

A day after the Volcker Commission report documented gross mismanagement and conflict of interests in the oil for food program, Iraq's U.N. ambassador said the secretary-general who oversaw creation of the program should be held responsible. Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt headed the world body in 1996, when the humanitarian program was set up.

Iraq's U.N. representative Samir Sumaidaie Friday suggested that under Mr. Boutros-Ghali's leadership, the U.N. secretariat contradicted the will of the Security Council by organizing the oil-for-food to suit Saddam Hussein regime.

"In the early day the secretariat bent over backwards to please the Saddam regime,” Mr. Sumaidaie said. “At that time Boutros was the secretary-general, and the report asserts that he tried to please the Saddam government by accommodating his requests which laid the basis for most things that went wrong later.”

The Volcker report does not allege that Mr. Boutros-Ghali deliberately undermined the oil-for-food program, but concludes that he violated regulations in selecting the French bank BNP to handle the program's account. It also notes that a cousin of the former secretary-general won oil concessions through program director Benon Sevan, who was sharply criticized in the Volcker report.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali did not answer telephone calls to his home in Paris Friday. But in comments to the New York Times, he said he had done nothing wrong. He called Volcker Commission investigators "ignorant" and described allegations about his conduct as "silly".

Iraq's ambassador Sumaidaie, however, says Mr. Boutros-Ghali allowed the humanitarian program to be set up in such a way that it gave Saddam's regime too much room for mischief.

“What's clear to me is that Saddam and his regime were able to manipulate things in such a way as to get what they wanted out of this program,” Mr. Sumaidaie added.

The Iraqi envoy noted that the humanitarian program "ended up with sanctions hurting civilians but not really hurting the regime".

The current secretary-general Kofi Annan Friday declined to question his predecessor's judgment on oil-for-food program matters. Mr. Annan acknowledged that Mr. Boutros-Ghali was under competing pressures as the controversial humanitarian program was being crafted.

“Each Secretary-General has to do things his way and in accordance with the circumstances that he finds himself in,” said Mr. Annan. “I think Mr. Boutros-Ghali has indicated in the report, the environment and the circumstances in which he was taking those decisions and I don't want to second-guess him.”

Mr. Annan admitted Friday that the Volcker report had delivered what he called "some hard knocks" to the world body's reputation. But he pledged to get to the bottom of allegations of wrongdoing.

The Volcker commission is expected to issue at least one more interim report before reaching final conclusions, possibly by the middle of the year. The next report will examine whether Mr. Annan himself may have been compromised by payments made to his son by a key oil-for-food contractor.