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Philanthropist Urges Transparency in Iraq Oil Revenue Spending - 2003-05-20

International philanthropist and chairman of the Open Society Institute, George Soros, has launched a new initiative to monitor Iraq's oil industry and ensure that revenues benefit the Iraqi people. The United Nations Security Council is considering a modified draft resolution lifting sanctions against Iraq.

Mr. Soros says despite positive changes in the new draft resolution more needs to be done to promote the transparency in the way the U.S. and British led coalition direct the spending of Iraqi oil revenues.

He says that is why he is creating the "Iraq Revenue Watch." The proposal is still in its early stages and details are unclear. But, Mr. Soros says the plan will be modeled on an existing initiative in the Caspian basin that includes countries in the region, to monitor the development of oil production.

Mr. Soros says transparency in spending is in the interest of the United States, following criticism of the war and skepticism about the awarding of contracts to rebuild Iraq to several large U.S. corporations.

"There is widespread feeling in the world that this war was fought for oil and that it is there to benefit the Haliburtons and the Bechtels of the world," he said. "And it is, I think, very much in the interest of the United States to allay those fears and we want to assist the United States in doing that by establishing the Iraq Revenue Watch and we shall insist on that transparency that is in the resolution now."

Mr. Soros discussed his initiative publicly in a news briefing at the United Nations Tuesday.

He was critical of the U.S. sponsored resolution, which, if approved, would lift sanctions against Iraq and give coalition authorities broad control over Iraqi oil revenues to pay for reconstruction costs.

Mr. Soros says the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan should be given a far more substantial role in post-war Iraq.

Mr. Soros says he is so disappointed with some U.S. policies towards Iraq that he will redirect some of his foundations' efforts for fostering transparency to the United States.

The Open Society Institute directs more than $450 million a year to promote democracy and civil society in dozens of countries around the world, but particularly in Eastern Europe.