This witch hunt against Kofi Annan is the real scandal

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The Independent Online

The prescription reputedly advanced by the US National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, for dealing with "old Europe" following the disagreement over Iraq - "punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia" - has already gone down in the annals of cynical statecraft. It now seems clear, however, that there was another unspoken element: "Kill off the UN by beheading".

The prescription reputedly advanced by the US National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, for dealing with "old Europe" following the disagreement over Iraq - "punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia" - has already gone down in the annals of cynical statecraft. It now seems clear, however, that there was another unspoken element: "Kill off the UN by beheading".

The furore being whipped up by a US Senate committee over the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and the UN's "oil-for-food programme" is a witch hunt if ever there was one. Few would defend every detail of this scheme, which was set up to channel Iraq's legitimate oil revenue into food for the Iraqi population rather than dollars for Saddam Hussein. The fact is, however, that few international programmes on this scale are without blemish. The Iraqi oil-for-food arrangement was no better and no worse than many others and, while it lasted, probably did some good.

Cut to the present day, more than 18 months after Saddam Hussein was toppled. What we are witnessing now is the end-game in a malicious campaign orchestrated by certain interests in the United States with the single aim of discrediting the UN and all its works. The whispering began long before the US Senate and the UN began separate investigations into the oil-for-food "scandal" earlier this year. Pointed leaks about oil-for-food corruption appeared regularly in US media outlets sympathetic to the administration. The leaks were always exquisitely timed to coincide with some new war-related disaster, including the publication of photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Strangely, too, leaked drafts have named only non-American individuals and companies, blurring all US involvement.

Now, the flames of this scandal are licking at Kofi Annan himself, via allegations - denied - against his son. More than 50 countries, Britain included, have - rightly - voiced support for the Secretary General. The oil-for-food programme was undoubtedly tainted, but the greater scandal by far is Washington's crude misuse of a congressional investigation to exact revenge on the UN for its refusal to play George Bush's game in Iraq.

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