france's five cardinal sins over iraq, page-2

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    how paris armed saddam HOW PARIS ARMED SADDAM
    Kenneth R. Timmerman
    The New Republic, March 17, 2003

    In recent weeks, the normally somnolent United Nations has become the scene of furious bargaining and arm-twisting over a potential second resolution authorizing the use of force to disarm Iraq. [Primary] opposition has come from France. French officials have vowed that Paris is committed to disarming Iraq, though France prefers to continue with weapons inspectors rather than to utilize force. "Together and in peace, we must keep strong pressure on [Iraq] to attain the objective we have set: the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," French President Jacques Chirac said this week. Yet…France actually has continued arming Saddam Hussein's regime--right up to the present day. France is responsible for nearly 25 percent of Iraq's imports, trade worth nearly $1.5 billion to French companies. The antiwar movement makes considerable hay of America's support for Saddam during the 1980s. What they overlook is that France has been providing equipment with military uses to Baghdad for years.

    It's no secret that France has significant oil interests in Iraq. According to Richard Perle, who heads the Pentagon's unofficial Advisory Defense Policy Board, the French national oil giant TotalFinaElf recently negotiated a contract with Baghdad to expand Iraq's huge southern oil fields worth an estimated $40 to $60 billion. That contract can only come to fruition if Saddam remains in power. "One can suspect that…in between the real value of that contract and the cash value of that contract there is a certain amount of political support," Perle says. "[I]t's entirely possible that Saddam negotiated that deal because he thought that along with the revenues…he'd get something else."

    TotalFinaElf has not publicly announced the deal mentioned by Perle, yet a former Iraqi trade official who recently defected told me that Baghdad was seeking "to reward France through lucrative oil contracts" for its political support. He also pointed out that Iraqi intermediaries regularly arranged payment from French oil companies under the U.N.'s oil-for-food program and that these oil firms send some of the cash to Saddam's inner circle. "Ten percent of contract value is regularly kicked back to Saddam Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay…for their illicit weapons programs," he said.

    Worse than the oil deals, Iraq turns to France for telecommunications products, pesticides, and other items ostensibly imported to rebuild Iraq's civilian infrastructure but which could be used for Iraqi weapons programs. Since 1997, the U.N. Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP) has catalogued Iraq's foreign contracts in a database that shows a wealth of French deals… French telecommunications giant Alcatel has signed contracts worth more than $65 million to upgrade Iraq's fiber-optic infrastructure, which American intelligence complains helps Baghdad evade electronic eavesdropping…. French firms have supplied specialized pumps and other equipment that could potentially be used for Iraq's centrifuge uranium-enrichment programs. Indeed, an October 2001 intelligence analysis by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory indicated that Iraq was importing large quantities of equipment from France and elsewhere that was specially coated to allow it to be used with highly corrosive uranium hexafluoride gas, which is used in uranium enrichment.

    Meanwhile, French automakers Renault and Peugeot have signed deals to supply Iraq with trucks… that can be modified and used to launch Scud missiles. The medical company Karl Storz Endoscopie France S.A. has inked a contract to sell Iraq lithotripsy machines, which can be used for treating kidney stones. But these machines also employ a high-speed krytron switch similar to those used to trigger nuclear warheads….

    Given the potential dual use of items like the lithotripsy machines, the United States, using its power over sanctions on Iraq, has placed a hold on the Karl Storz deal. That deal, unfortunately, is hardly unique. A recent $40 million contract with the French subsidiary of the German company Siemens to supply unspecified "engineering services" to Iraq was put on hold by the American mission at the United Nations because of its potential to feed directly into Iraq's proscribed weapons programs. In fact, Washington has placed holds on 93 French contracts because of their potential to be utilized in producing weapons of mass destruction. Many times…the French government has simply turned around and resubmitted similar contracts to the United Nations, which have gone through…

    If Iraq's past behavior is any guide, even more dangerous contracts signed in secret may come out in the wake of a conflict with the United States.

    Which is one more reason Paris would prefer Saddam remain in power.

    (Kenneth R. Timmerman is author of
    “The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq”.)
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