The chairman of a congressional committee contended Monday that U.N. officials "encouraged, or at least tacitly condoned," President Saddam Hussein's (search) widespread abuse of Iraq's oil-for-food (search) relief program.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee asked that the United Nations (search) give the panel all records related to alleged bribes and kickbacks involved in the U.N.-sponsored program to ease the effects of economic sanctions on Iraq's civilians. The committee also requested a list of U.N. officials involved in its management.

A recent report by the CIA's chief arms inspector, Charles Duelfer (search), concluded that Saddam exploited the relief program to reap billions of dollars in illicit revenue, bypassing U.N.-imposed sanctions.

The $60 billion program began in 1996, six years after economic sanctions were imposed to deny goods to Saddam's military and punish him for invading Iraq. The program was suspended when a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003 and was lifted two months later.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the Energy and Commerce Committee's chairman, sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) that cited Duelfer's findings and other reports of kickbacks and illicit deals by Saddam from the relief program.

"The evidence further suggests that despite being aware of these abuses, U.N. officials and member states encouraged,or at least tacitly condoned, the abuses," Barton wrote.

The committee is one of three House panels investigating the Iraqi relief program.

Barton asked that the U.N. provide a description of "when and how the U.N. first became aware" of abuses of the program by Saddam, and requested all records related to alleged bribes, kickbacks and illegal revenue obtained by Saddam's government under the program.

The committee also asked for all internal U.N. audits or reviews of the program and a list of current and former U.N. officials involved in it.

The oil-for-food program also is being investigated by a special U.N. commission and by a grand jury in New York as well as the House International Relations Committee and a House Government Reform subcommittee.