Since Saddam was toppled in April, Iraq has paid out $1.8bn in reparations to the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), the Geneva-based quasi tribunal that assesses claims and disburses awards. Of those payments, $37m have gone to Britain and $32.8m have gone to the United States. That's right: in the past 18 months, Iraq's occupiers have collected $69.8m in reparation payments from the desperate people they have been occupying. But it gets worse: the vast majority of those payments, 78%, have gone to multinational corporations, according to statistics on the UNCC website.
Away from media scrutiny, this has been going on for years. Of course there are many legitimate claims for losses that have come before the UNCC: payments have gone to Kuwaitis who have lost loved ones, limbs, and property to Saddam's forces. But much larger awards have gone to corporations: of the total amount the UNCC has awarded in Gulf war reparations, $21.5bn has gone to the oil industry alone. Jean-Claude Aimé, the UN diplomat who headed the UNCC until December 2000, publicly questioned the practice. "This is the first time as far as I know that the UN is engaged in retrieving lost corporate assets and profits," he told the Wall Street Journal in 1997, and then mused: "I often wonder at the correctness of that."
But the UNCC's corporate handouts only accelerated. Here is a small sample of who has been getting "reparation" awards from Iraq: Halliburton ($18m), Bechtel ($7m), Mobil ($2.3m), Shell ($1.6m), Nestlé ($2.6m), Pepsi ($3.8m), Philip Morris ($1.3m), Sheraton ($11m), Kentucky Fried Chicken ($321,000) and Toys R Us ($189,449). In the vast majority of cases, these corporations did not claim that Saddam's forces damaged their property in Kuwait - only that they "lost profits" or, in the case of American Express, experienced a "decline in business" because of the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. One of the biggest winners has been Texaco, which was awarded $505m in 1999. According to a UNCC spokesperson, only 12% of that reparation award has been paid, which means hundreds of millions more will have to come out of the coffers of post-Saddam Iraq.
No wonder the Mission Unaccomplished Bush administration is more eager to make nice with the UN again. Once again, the priorities of their so-called "war on terror" become clear. There's money involved.