U.S.A.: Galloway Calls Congressional Hearings a Diversion From Iraq

British lawmaker George Galloway told a U.S. Senate panel today that Congress was were diverting attention from the failings of U.S. contractors in Iraq, the possible misuse of money by the U.S.-led Coalition, the spreading of money around the country by
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British lawmaker George Galloway told a U.S. Senate panel today he didn't receive ``one thin dime'' from Iraq because of his opposition to sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime, and that senators had created ``the mother of all smokescreens'' by accusing him of wrongdoing.

``I have never seen a barrel of oil, bought one, sold one, and neither has anyone on my behalf,'' Galloway told the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican. The panel accused Galloway in a report last week of profiting from the sale of Iraqi oil.

Galloway, 50, flew to Washington to rebut allegations he had returned $300,000 of his profits to Hussein, helping the dictator evade sanctions under the United Nations oil-for-food program that allowed Iraq to buy food and medicine with oil revenue.

The U.K. lawmaker, returned to Parliament by voters this month as an independent after he was ejected from the ruling Labour Party, turned his appearance before the Senate into an assault on U.S. policy toward Iraq. The U.K. is part of the military coalition that ousted Hussein.

`Life's Blood'

Galloway said he gave his ``political life's blood'' to try to stop the sanctions, which he said killed a million Iraqis, most of them children, and the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003, which he said was justified with ``a pack of lies.''

``In everything I said about Iraq I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong,'' Galloway said, as Coleman and other senators listened.

Galloway said that ``if the world had listened'' to him and others such as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who opposed the Iraq war, ``we would not be in the disaster that we are in today.''

Galloway said senators were diverting attention from the failings of U.S. contractors in Iraq, from the possible misuse of money by the U.S.-led occupation body known as the Coalition Provisional Authority, the spreading of money around the country by U.S. military commanders without accountability, and U.S. companies such as Bayoil (USA) Inc., which is accused of paying millions of dollars to Hussein for the right to sell Iraqi oil.

``The real sanctions-busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own government,'' Galloway said.

Oil Options

Galloway is one of three foreign politicians named last week by the subcommittee as having received options to buy discounted Iraqi oil for their support of the ousted dictator. The options could be sold to oil traders, earning the holder a profit without ever handling a barrel of crude.

The Senate panel also said Galloway ``appeared to use'' his charity for children's leukemia, the Mariam Appeal, to funnel money made from selling those allocations. Galloway denied the accusation.

``The only thing these people have against me is my name on pieces of paper written by we know not whom, and when we know not,'' Galloway said today. His name is listed in Iraq Oil Ministry records as receiving vouchers for 200 million barrels of oil, Senate investigators say.

``The documents that were produced after the fall of the Iraqi regime have been put together by people under the control of the United States of America,'' the U.K. lawmaker said.

Libel Suit

Galloway won a libel suit against the London Daily Telegraph in December after it reported he had received a salary from Hussein's regime. The newspaper, which has appealed, was ordered to pay Galloway 150,000 pounds ($275,865) in damages and about 1.2 million pounds in legal costs.

While Senate investigators said last week the Telegraph's evidence ``apparently included forged documents,'' it said genuine Iraqi records indicate Galloway was granted the opportunity to buy 20 million barrels of oil at a discount. Galloway today repeatedly denied he was rewarded by the Hussein regime.

Coleman told Galloway today that ``senior Iraqi officials have confirmed that you in fact received oil allocations and that the documents that identify you as an allocation recipient are valid.''

Saluting Hussein

Galloway has voiced his support for Hussein and for ending sanctions in the past.

``Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability,'' Galloway told Hussein during a Jan. 21, 1994, visit noted by Coleman. ``I want you to know we are with you.''

Hussein gave advisers to Russian President Vladimir Putin more than 90 million barrels in Iraqi oil allocations as thanks for Russia's support in the United Nations, the subcommittee said yesterday. The Russian Foreign Ministry denied that either Alexander Voloshin, head of the Presidential Council, or his friend, Sergey Issakov, had received allocations of oil.

Former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua denied yesterday he had profited from the sale of Iraqi oil during Hussein's regime, an allegation made by the same Senate panel. Pasqua, now a French senator, said he never had any contact with Iraqi authorities.

The UN's oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996 through 2003, aimed to isolate Hussein while providing Iraqis with food and medicine. Hussein exploited the sanctions, amassing $17 billion through oil smuggling and kickbacks, according to congressional estimates last year.

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