Hearings probe prewar policy toward Iraq


WASHINGTON -- Across Capitol Hill, congressional inquiries into the administration's prewar policy toward Iraq have been picking up steam. These include:

* A probe into U.S. export controls and the transfer to Iraq of sensitive "dual-use" technology that could be used for civilian or military purposes. For more than a year, the House Foreign Affairs international trade subcommittee has focused on how the Bush administration promoted the sale of sophisticated technology that, in many cases, helped increase Iraqi war-fighting capabilities.

* A separate review of the administration's policy toward Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The House Energy and Commerce Committee already has uncovered evidence of a thwarted attempt by the Energy Department's export control officials to warn the National Security Council in April 1989 that Iraq was buying key components for an atomic bomb.

* A House Government Operations subcommittee investigation

of the Commerce Department's altering of records for 68 export licenses, possibly to cover up details of U.S. technology sales to Iraq. Export data subpoenaed by the panel were doctored and permanent government computer files also were changed, according to the department's inspector general.

At the insistence of subcommittee Chairman Doug Barnard Jr., a Georgia Democrat, the Justice Department began looking into the matter last year to see who was responsible for the changes and whether laws were broken. The case remains open, but federal investigators have yet to report any progress to Congress.

* An investigation of the Agriculture Department's loan guarantee program and the personal efforts by President Bush, Secretary of State James A. Baker III and other top officials to hand Iraq $1 billion in new credits to finance the purchase of U.S. grain nine months before Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait.

The House Banking Committee, House and Senate Agriculture Committees and the General Accounting Office are trying to determine if Washington's decisions to guarantee the repayment Iraq's loans with taxpayer dollars made it easier for Baghdad to feed its citizens on borrowed money while using its own limited cash reserves to arm its military.

Investigators have found documents indicating that U.S. officials suspected in 1989 that Iraq was bartering American grain for military hardware.

* A broad probe of Washington's ties to Saddam Hussein. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, the Texas Democrat who heads the House Banking Committee, has cast a wide net for information on U.S. loan guarantees, Iraq's military procurement network in the United States and possible conflicts of interest involving senior Bush officials.

One focus includes a $4 billion loan-fraud scheme involving the Atlanta branch of Italy's Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, which resulted in a guilty plea last week to 347 counts of conspiracy and fraud by the branch's manager.

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