• Galloway's testimony against accusations leaves US Senate bewildered
• Respect MP used meeting as platform for vocal criticism of Iraq war
• US Senate remains unsure of Galloway's credibility and approach
"I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns." - GEORGE GALLOWAY
Story in full GEORGE Galloway yesterday failed in his attempt to convince a sceptical US Senate investigative committee that he had not profited from oil dealings with Iraq under the UN’s controversial oil-for-food programme.
Despite a typically barnstorming performance full of bluster and rhetorical flourishes, the former Glasgow Kelvin MP was pinned down by persistent questioning over his business relationship with Fawaz Zureikat, the chairman of the Mariam Appeal - set up to assist a four-year-old Iraqi girl suffering from leukaemia.
And it was a Democrat senator, Carl Levin, rather than the Republican committee chairman, Norm Coleman, who gave him the hardest time as Mr Galloway sought to turn the tables on his inquisitors, leaving him no closer to clearing his name than when he took his seat in front of the sub-committee of the Senate’s homeland security and government affairs committee in Washington.
Time and again, Mr Levin questioned him, requesting wearily that he deliver a straight answer to a straight question. But Mr Galloway could, or would not.
The Respect MP clearly thought he came out on top, and said so bluntly afterwards, describing the chairman as "not much of a lyncher".
But Mr Coleman, accused by the MP of being "remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice", appeared unswayed by Mr Galloway’s testimony. "If in fact he lied to this committee, there will have to be consequences," he said afterwards.
Asked whether Mr Galloway violated his oath to tell the truth before the committee, Mr Coleman said: "I don’t know. We’ll have to look over the record. I just don’t think he was a credible witness."
The committee’s report on Mr Galloway’s alleged involvement, published to coincide with yesterday’s hearing, pulled few punches. Despite the MP’s denials, it said, the evidence showed that: "Iraq granted George Galloway allocations for millions of barrels of oil under the oil-for-food programme.
"Moreover, some evidence indicates that Galloway appeared to use a charity for children’s leukaemia to conceal payments associated with at least one such allocation. Lastly, according to senior Saddam officials, the oil allocations were granted by Iraq because of Galloway’s support for the Saddam regime and his opposition to UN sanctions."
Mr Galloway, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, had pledged to take the fight to the committee and did not disappoint. Sitting up straight, he stared ahead as he delivered an impassioned diatribe against the US approach to Iraq.
"I am not now, nor have I ever been an oil trader and neither has anyone on my behalf," he told the chairman. "I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and American governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas."
In a lengthy opening statement, Mr Galloway insisted the sub-committee had no evidence against him.
"You have nothing on me, Senator, except my name on lists of names from Iraq, many of which have been drawn up after the installation of your puppet government in Iraq."
And Mr Galloway rejected a claim in the sub-committee’s report that he had had "many" meetings with Saddam Hussein, saying he had only met the former dictator twice.
"I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns," he said.
It was the speech of a man believing himself wronged: "I gave my heart and soul to stop you from committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq," he said. "And I told the world that the case for war was a pack of lies."
And he poured scorn on the documentation produced in evidence against him, insisting, on his oath, that he had never heard of the company which, it was suggested, acted as a conduit for oil deals on his behalf.
He accused the sub-committee of committing a "schoolboy howler" in its presentation of the evidence.
Under repeated questioning, Mr Galloway conceded that Mr Zureikat did have extensive business dealings with the Saddam regime but, challenged over whether his friend’s generous contributions to the Mariam Appeal - 900,000 by his own previous assessments - could have come from the sale of oil, he stonewalled.
Urged to say if he would repay the cash if it could be proved to have come from such a source, he again ducked the question. Mr Galloway first met Mr Zureikat, a Jordanian businessman, through his now-estranged wife Amineh Abu-Zayyad, who had attended the same university in Jordan. The men became friends and set up the Mariam Appeal in 1998.
BBC Scotland flew its own reporter, Bob Wylie, out to cover Mr Galloway’s appearance, while the corporation is looking to make job cuts and savings.