Iraq's Odious Debts

Iraqi Leader: Belarus Helped Iraq

Judith Ingram
The Associated Press
May 7, 2003

A likely appointee to the interim Iraqi government said Belarus should be called to account for allegedly providing military aid to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in violation of United Nations sanctions. “We have documents about this, and in any case we will raise this question in the UN Security Council and demand punishment for those Belarussian bureaucrats who took part in violating sanctions,” Iyad Allawi, leader of the Iraqi National Accord, was quoted as saying in an interview published Tuesday in Vremya Novostei. Allawi is one of five anti-Hussein leaders with whom U.S. officials have been consulting over the formation of Iraq’s interim government, and he is expected to be one of that government’s leaders.

U. S. officials have previously accused the Belarussian government of providing unspecified military equipment to Iraq, and a former Belarus defense minister, Pavel Kazlovski, said Belarus could have shipped arms to Iraq under the cover of humanitarian aid. Belarus had developed such close ties with the Iraqi government that it even made the shortlist of countries where analysts and diplomats expected Hussein could seek refuge. Belarussian officials have vehemently denied the allegations of sanctions-busting. “First proof is needed, and only then can everything else [be discussed],” Natalya Petkevich, President Alexander Lukashenko’s spokeswoman, said Tuesday. Other officials were unavailable for comment, since it was a national holiday.

A senior U.S. administration official told reporters in Moscow on Monday that there were indications of Belarussian and Ukrainian aid to Iraq, that some sanctions had already been imposed and more were under consideration. He said that there was not yet any evidence of Russia’s collaboration — a point Allawi backed up. “We have no information that Russia helped Saddam,” Allawi said. However, he said some debt that Iraq owed Russia was for illegal deals and would not be recognized by the new authorities. He estimated the debt at $12 billion in all.

“Robbery took place, not only from the Iraqi side,” Allawi said. “We have information and we will give it to the Russian government.” Allawi alleged that some Russians had “severely harmed the Iraqi people,” and pointed in particular to former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, whom he accused of defending Hussein “for personal profit.”

Primakov, a Middle East expert, Soviet-era diplomat and spymaster who was a Pravda newspaper correspondent for the region during the Cold War, has known Hussein for decades. Moscow dispatched him to Baghdad several times to try to avert war — first in 1990, then this year.

“We have almost full certainty that Primakov received certain sums from Saddam for this [defending him],” Allawi said, without elaborating. The interview, which Vremya Novostei political columnist Yelena Suponina conducted in Baghdad, did not say what Allawi’s allegations were based on. Speculation about Primakov’s alleged self-interest in Iraq have floated around for years.

Foreign Ministry officials, including Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, have vehemently denied them. Primakov’s office was closed for the May holidays, neither he nor his spokeswoman could not be reached for comment. Allawi also said that all the contracts that Russian companies had concluded with Hussein’s government were “over.” “Whatever was signed during Saddam’s time has no force now,” Allawi said.

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