Oil for What?—Illicit Iraqi Oil Contracts and the U.N. Security Council


T he Oil-For-Food program was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 986 in 1995 as a means of providing humanitarian relief to Iraq, which had been under U.N. economic sanctions since the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The Oil-For-Food program was divided into six-month phases and required renewal by the Security Council at each phase. The first phase lasted from December 1996 to June 1997, and the program continued for a total of 13 phases, with the final phase extending until the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. During each phase, Iraq was permitted to sell an approved amount of oil to international buyers. Income from the program was held by the United Nations in escrow accounts that were used to purchase food, medical supplies and other humanitarian materials. The Iraq Survey Group, a CIA-organized investigative body tasked with cataloging the extent of Iraq’s illicit weapons program after the invasion, estimated that the Oil-For-Food program generated $64 billion in revenues over its lifetime (Duelfer, 2004). After the invasion of Iraq, considerable evidence emerged suggesting that Saddam Hussein was able to subvert the Oil-For-Food program to obtain hard currency as well as items on the United Nation’s prohibited transfer list. In this paper, I use recently available data to examine how the Iraqi government used illicit contracts for underpriced oil to reward supporters. Although it may never be possible to prove conclusively that the Iraqi government used oil contracts as a mechanism to trade bribes for votes in the U.N. Security Council, I demonstrate that nations with seats on the Security Council received a greater number and a greater value of these contracts and that receipt of the contracts was positively associated with pro-Iraqi votes. I also find that Iraq was more likely to give contracts to countries on the Council that had exhibited prior support for the Iraqi regime.

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Heaton2006OilFW, title={Oil for What?—Illicit Iraqi Oil Contracts and the U.N. Security Council}, author={Paul S. Heaton}, year={2006} }