Suspect Oil Deals Were Norm Under Saddam

Investigators in Iraq are asking questions about how Saddam Hussein (search) ran the country's huge oil business and why certain countries treated the former Iraqi dictator better than others.

The Justice Ministry in Iraq's interim government recently uncovered documents about suspect oil deals in Saddam's regime, which collapsed in April after U.S. troops succeeded in taking Baghdad.

It reads like a "Who's Who" of the Friends of Saddam club. It's a list of 271 companies, politicians and organizations that allegedly benefited from the former Iraqi regime by getting large amounts of cut-rate oil that would earn kickbacks when sold by oil brokers.

"Instead of using the wealth to reconstruct Iraq — like building universities or highways — he just gave it as gifts to his followers," said Asim Jihad, a spokesman for the Iraqi Oil Ministry (search).

France is one of the countries favored most as the list documents 11 French recipients of oil allotments, including a businessman with ties to French President Jacques Chirac (search), a diplomat who served under Chirac when he was prime minister and a former French ambassador to the United Nations.

"It's pretty clear that Saddam Hussein thought he could influence the French," said Vincent Hugeux, an editor with L'Express Magazine.

The Franco-Iraqi Friendship Association (search) is another group allegedly getting bribes or rewards. Its chief denies getting oil allotments but does admit to getting commissions from French oil firms he helped in Baghdad.

"I served as an intermediary and in exchange for that got some benefits," said Gilles Munier, the secretary general of the Franco-Iraqi Friendship Association.

Many of those listed said they didn't get any oil allocations from Saddam. Those who did said it was within the legal framework of the U.N.-run Oil for Food (search ) program, which oversaw Iraq's oil sales and purchases of other items.

But analysts said the fact that people might have illicitly profited from the system raises concerns.

"Some of the payments are of a size and a profit margin which raises the questions why and to what purpose?" said Claude Hankes-Drielsma, an analyst with Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.

Hankes-Drielsma, who is a consultant to the Iraqi Governing Council, wants a U.N. investigation into the matter. And the U.S. Treasury Department says its also interested in finding out more about deals reached during the Saddam regime.

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