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Iraqis to probe reported oil bribes

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's Governing Council ordered an investigation yesterday into charges former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein bought the support of foreign politicians and organizations with millions of barrels of oil.

"We asked the Justice Ministry to launch an investigation, take measures against the Iraqis who took part, and examine what could be done internationally to pursue foreigners involved," said Naseer al-Chaderji, a senior council member.

The independent Baghdad newspaper al-Mada earlier published a list it said was based on Oil Ministry documents showing 46 individuals, companies, and organizations inside and outside Iraq who were given millions of barrels of oil.

Chaderji said he believed the newspaper's list was genuine. An official assessment will be left to the minister of justice.

"This oil belongs to the Iraqi people. We will focus on those who abused their position, took bribes from Saddam in return for propaganda," Chaderji said.

The newspaper's list included members of Arab ruling families, religious organizations, politicians and parties from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Sudan, China, Austria, France, Italy, and other countries.

France's former interior minister, Charles Pasqua, one of those named by the paper, denied the allegation.

"I am not and have never been a friend of Saddam Hussein," Pasqua told the daily Le Monde, adding he had "never received anything from Saddam Hussein, whether oil or money."

Organizations named included the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Communist Party, India's Congress Party, and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Russian Orthodox Church rejected the accusation.

"The solidarity of our church with the people of Iraq . . . was of course in no way connected to commercial interests," a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate told Interfax news agency.

Arab oligarchs from oil-producing countries and sons of Arab officials who have been political foes of Hussein for decades were also on the list.

Officials in Hussein's regime, which directly controlled its oil wealth, said the newspaper's list was genuine.

"Those whom you used to see on television meeting Saddam did not usually come out empty-handed. God forgive him. We paid dearly," one former Ba'athist official said.

The alleged incidents were said to have taken place from 1996 to 2003, when Iraq's oil-for-food deal with the UN was in effect.

One Iraqi official said he was personally involved in arranging the transfers of oil.

"Sometimes people came to Iraq wanting nothing," the official said. "Saddam corrupted them. He gave them oil as a gift and they got hooked."

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