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Volcker Oil for Food Report Urges Accelerated UN Reforms

Following a scathing report this week on the United Nation's Oil for Food program in Iraq, the world body finds itself at a crossroads. The investigation concludes that the U.N. urgently needs to reform or face losing what legitimacy it has in addressing global security challenges.

The head of the Oil For Food investigation put it bluntly:

"Our assignment has been to look for mis-or mal-administration in the oil-for-food program and for evidence of corruption within the UN organization and by contractors. Unhappily, we found both," said Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Independent Inquiry Committee.

Mr. Volcker's report delivered a devastating assessment of the Oil For Food program and strongly criticized U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, his deputy and the Security Council for allowing Saddam Hussein to reap huge profits from the humanitarian aid program.

Mr. Annan accepted responsibility for the lapses in management. "None of us -- member states, Secretariat, agencies, funds and programs -- can be proud of what it has found," said Mr. Annan, who told reporters he has no plans to resign.

The Oil for Food program began in 1996 to help ease the impact on ordinary Iraqis suffering under sanctions imposed after the Gulf War. The U.N. program allowed Iraq to sell some oil in order to buy food, medicine and other goods. It let Baghdad draw up its own contracts, leaving room for abuse.

The year-long probe of the $64 billion program criticized U.N. officials for tolerating corruption and faulted the Security Council for turning a blind eye to oil smuggling and other illicit activities. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said this corruption allowed Saddam Hussein's regime to thrive despite U.N. sanctions.

"There were bribes, there were kickbacks, there was lax oversight from the Secretariat, and some member states turned a blind eye towards this corruption," said Mr. Bolton.

The report supports calls by the Bush administration to reform the world body. The Commission lists a number of changes including creating a position of Chief Operating Officer and an auditing board to avoid corruption in the future.

This comes just a week before world leaders gather for a summit to consider a host of Mr. Annan's own reform initiatives. The United States and some other member states are pushing for even greater change and hope the report will provide the necessary momentum to make the U.N. a more effective body.