The news report continues, "In their final statement, the participants pledged to exert efforts to lift the embargo imposed on Iraq and to foil the enemies' attempts to divide Iraq and interfere in its internal affairs." The participants sent Saddam Hussein a telegram of support, promising "to do their utmost to defend justice, peace and freedom, especially at this time when the Iraqis are suffering from sanctions. The expatriates said they lived days of love, work and true dialogue to reach means of serving the motherland, and convey its message of civilization sincerely to [their] countries of residence." Al-Khafaji called the gathering "a sincere and faithful response to our motherland."
At the 2000 Expatriate Conference, according to a report in the Jewish newspaper Forward, Al-Khafaji appeared on stage with Tariq Aziz, who was then foreign minister. The pair railed about economic sanctions, which they said were starving the Iraqi people. The official conference website accuses the United States of "terrorism and genocide" in Iraq.
A group of Iraqi opposition figures, alarmed by the rise of the regime-sponsored expatriate organizations, published a letter in London's Al Zaman newspaper on June 13, 2000. They warned that the expatriate groups existed "to throw dust in people's eyes . . . and convince Iraqis abroad that their actions are purely humanitarian and that their only objective is to remove the blockade imposed on our people. In time, however, they revealed themselves to be offshoots of the regime's intelligence services." The opposition warned that "these associations pose a threat to Iraqis abroad and particularly to the dissidents among them, since they spy on their activities and gather information about them which is sent to Iraq and used to threaten their families that are still in the homeland."
Al-Khafaji first came to public notice after revelations that he gave former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter $400,000 to produce a film that criticized the United States for its role in the inspection process. Al-Khafaji, who is listed as a "senior executive producer" of the film, arranged meetings for Ritter with high-level officials in Saddam's government, a feat New York Times magazine writer Barry Bearak found "impressive." Ritter had previously been an outspoken critic of Saddam Hussein, and issued dire warnings about the status of the Iraqi dictator's weapons of mass destruction. His sudden flip--he is now a leading apologist for Saddam's regime--and revelations about Ritter's 2001 arrest for soliciting sex with minors have fueled speculation about the nature of his relationship with al-Khafaji.
Al-Khafaji has long claimed that he cares only about the Iraqi people, an assertion too preposterous even for Ritter, who told THE WEEKLY STANDARD in 2001 that his patron was "openly sympathetic with the regime in Baghdad." That stands to reason. The Falcon Trading Group, a company that al-Khafaji founded in 1993 in Johannesburg, South Africa, has done nearly $70 million of business with Saddam's regime.
Al-Khafaji told Baghdad Radio on June 14, 2000, that he hoped to arrange a delegation so that members of the U.S. Congress could "get acquainted with the Iraqi people's suffering as a result of the unjust embargo clamped on it." He got his wish two years later, when he accompanied Reps. Jim McDermott, Jim Thompson, and David Bonior to Baghdad last fall.
McDermott, in particular, caused quite a fuss when in a September 29 appearance on ABC's "This Week" from Baghdad, he claimed, "The president of the United States will lie to the American people in order to get us into this war." Moments later, despite 12 years of evidence that the Iraqi regime had lied about its weapons program, McDermott said, "I think you have to take the Iraqis on their face value."
The same day, Babil ran a brief item in its local news section. "Saddam Hussein received cable of support from Shakir al-Khafaji, president of the 17th Iraqi Expatriate Conference, on behalf of Iraqis who are living abroad."
The members of Congress returned to the United States facing intense criticism, and quickly sought to reassure an angry public that the objective of their mission was, in Bonior's words, "to impress upon the Iraqi government and the people of Iraq how important it was for them to allow unconditional, unfettered, unrestricted access to the inspectors." He reiterated the point at an October 2 press conference, telling reporters, "The purpose of our trip was to make it very clear, as I said in my opening statement, to the officials in Iraq how serious we--the United States is about going to war and that they will have war unless these inspections are allowed to go unconditionally and unfettered and open. And that was our point."
Of course, no one can say what the congressmen's motives were for their trip. But judging from a press release the trio issued before they left, on September 25, it's clear it wasn't to secure unfettered inspections. Although the congressmen warned about the "dangerous implications of a unilateral, preemptive strike," they didn't mention inspections once.
On October 25, McDermott received a check for $5,000 from Shakir al-Khafaji. The money, first reported by Amy Keller in Roll Call, had been deposited in an account for the McDermott Legal Expense Trust, a fund the congressman set up to pay legal bills in a lawsuit brought against him by Rep. John Boehner. (In 1996, McDermott had released to the media the transcript of a phone conversation between Boehner and Newt Gingrich, taped by a Florida couple.)
No one has accused McDermott of being a mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein simply for financial reasons. Indeed, McDermott has been saying stupid things for years with no evidence anyone has paid him to do so. A spokesman for McDermott says he "doesn't know off the top of [his] head" whether McDermott has plans to return the money.
The formidable task of sifting through the mountains of documents Saddam's regime left behind is only beginning. Many of the answers at this point are obscured by more questions.
But George Galloway most assuredly wasn't the only person lining his pockets by defending Saddam Hussein. Journalists and diplomats and businessmen have been doing it for years. Their stories will be told.