The Austin Chronicle

For Fans of Government Oversight

By Richard Whittaker, April 30, 2007, 10:59am, Newsdesk

Seems like it's not all hugs and cuddles in what's left of the shattered tatters of the Coalition of the Willing. The UK's House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (a Government Accountability Office-esque body that pokes around in the government's foreign policy) has blasted the administration of Prime Minister Tony Blair for scuppering an investigation over an oil-for-arms deal with Saudi Arabia. In its Human Rights Annual Report, it asked whether the UK put an $80 billion deal above trying to pressure the gulf state over its terrible human-rights record.

The deal in question is the famous al-Yamamah (ironically, the term is Arabic for dove) contract that basically gave British weapons firms a 20-year monopoly deal, paid in more than half a million barrels of oil per day. The Serious Fraud Office was investigating backhand deals and bribes between British arms manufacturer BAE Systems and the Arab monarchy, but in 2006 it canceled the investigation, citing the ubiquitous "national security" blanket excuse. However, speculation has long been rife that the prime minister intervened when the Saudis threatened to cancel a deal for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighters - produced by Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug, in which BAE has a 33% share.

Now the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the U.S. administration have weighed in (amazingly, the State Department is actually in favor of the investigation continuing, which shows they may put their war on terror higher on the agenda than coddling their host of their front-line base in the region - either that, or they just want their own share of the munitions-market pie).

The report asks a question that many U.S. observers have asked of their own administration - since the house of Saud basically depends on U.S. and UK support to survive, why aren't they using that special relationship to promote democracy in such a close ally?

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