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Al-Ahram: "Just another year of suffering?"

If anyone can document the official position of the Arab League Foreign
Ministers on sanctions, would they please post?  I believe they've called
for economic sanctions to end, but it's not made clear in what follows: a
recap of the year's fitful progress.

Al-Ahram Weekly
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
6 - 12 January 2000
Issue No. 463  

Just another year of suffering?
By Salah Hemeid

As nations around the world celebrated the advent of the new millennium,
Iraqis marked the historic day by going over the ins and outs of a year
which had brought them plenty by way of worries, but few concrete

Building on the previous month's military confrontation with the United
States over UN weapons inspectors, the Iraqi government started 1999 by an
intensive political campaign to rally Arab support for its demands that the
embargo on the country be lifted and Iraq be brought back to the Arab fold. 

However an emergency Arab League ministerial conference in Cairo failed to
give such a pledge and instead called on Iraq to comply with UN resolutions
against it. Iraq's endeavour ended in political disaster when Iraqi Foreign
Minister Mohamed Said Al-Sahhaf stormed out of the meeting, angrily accusing
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia of ganging up against Iraq to torpedo a resolution
that would have given the country the support it was seeking. Losing a
similar opportunity elsewhere to build relations with China, France and
Russia, Baghdad's efforts to lift the sanctions went back to square one. 

In February, unidentified assailants killed the Shi'ite religious leader
Ayatollah Mohamed Sadiq Al-Sadr and his two sons near the holy city of
Najaf. Although the Iraqi government denied any responsibility for the
murder of the outspoken clerical figure, the assassination sparked a wave of
unrest in several Shi'ite dominated areas in Baghdad and southern Iraq. It
was the first time since the end of the Gulf War that Shi'ites had launched
violent protests against the regime, and dozens of people were reported
killed in clashes with government troops. 

 In June, a pickup truck loaded with explosives was detonated alongside a
minibus carrying members of the Iranian exiled group the Mujahedin Khalq
from Baghdad to their camp on the Iranian border. The cross-border attacks,
tactics used by the two neighbouring countries through opposition groups
that both host, again underscored their fragile relations and perhaps a
joint conviction that time has not yet healed the wounds of the 1980-1988
Iran-Iraq war. 

A report released in August by the United Nations International Children
Emergency Fund (UNICEF) revealed in the heavily populated areas of central
and southern Iraq, children under five were dying at more than twice the
rate recorded 10 years previously. Carol Belamy, UNICEF's executive
director, blamed both UN economic sanctions and the Iraqi government for the
horrifying health conditions of Iraqi children. Yet, on the ninth
anniversary of the UN sanctions, it seemed there was little hope of easing
the plight of ordinary Iraqis, to which the oil-for-food programme that had
been designed to alleviate the suffering of the 22 million-strong population
of Iraq has made little difference. 

In a tragic incident in August US warplanes patrolling the southern no-fly
zone bombed a small town killing 12 people from one family. The raid
highlighted conflicts over the two no-fly zones, declared by the United
States and Britain over the country to deter the Iraqi regime from using its
forces against its opponents. Critics, however, say the policy has been
ineffective in weakening Saddam's grip on these areas or in posing a threat
to his regime. 

In September, the US State Department released a report accusing Iraq of
being "dangerous and defiant" since it had neither disarmed nor demonstrated
remorse for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The report was widely seen as part
of US anti-Saddam propaganda rather than a part of a genuine policy to help
bring about a new regime as claimed by its authors. 

In October, reports in the Arab press suggested that Saddam had asked King
Abdullah II of Jordan to convey a message to the Clinton administration in
which he expressed his willingness to end the conflict between the two
countries. Iraq, which has always called for dialogue with the United
States, did not deny the report, saying it wanted to explain certain points.

The US-backed Iraqi opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, ended a
meeting in New York in November, creating further divisions in the ranks of
the exiled Iraqi opposition. The three-day gathering was boycotted by key
opposition forces, which cast doubts on American plans and accused
Washington of manipulating the opposition and interfering in their affairs. 

In December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling on Iraq to
co-operate with a new disarmament agency to replace UNSCOM in exchange for a
suspension of the sanctions. Although Iraq has rejected the new resolution,
its final position will be tested soon when the Council sends the new
inspectors to resume operations in Iraq. The test will certainly determine
the type of relations Iraq adopts towards the United Nations and more
significantly towards US policy in future. 

Also in December, Saddam decorated his second son Odai for bravery amid
signs that the Iraqi leader is shifting more power to his younger son,
Qusai, who has reportedly been taking an increasing influential role in the
country since the assassination attempt on his elder brother in 1996. In
charge of the elite Republican Guard units, as well as the country's
intelligence and the security forces, Qusai is Iraq's strong man and the
most powerful candidate to succeed his father. 

For Iraqis, 1999 was another year of suffering, fear and bitterness, locked
in the same trap that the United States has fashioned to contain their
leader. Whether the year 2000 will bring hope and change remains an open
question; however when the new year sun shone for the first time last
Saturday the more practical question on many Iraqi minds was whether there
would be enough food for the Ramadan Iftar that night, and whether the
electricity would again be cut while children were preparing for the
mid-year exams to start the next day.

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