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A article from

You have been sent this message from as a courtesy of the Washington Post 

This is the most detailed description that I have seen so far in a major newspaper of how the 
current situation in Iraq suits both the US and Iraqi goverments.

To view the entire article, go to

The Trap That Suits Saddam--and the U.S.

In the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, greengrocer Muhammad Hadi offers political analysis along 
with the bananas, grapes and cucumbers that cascade from his sidewalk cart. Leaders in far-off 
Washington "want Saddam Hussein to remain in power," he says matter-of-factly. "This is good for 
their interests." It's a conspiracy theory that's common in Iraq's souks, which makes it tempting 
to dismiss. Yet there is a germ of truth in what Hadi says. 

On a trip to Iraq, during which we 
had unusual access from the Kurdish enclave in the north to the Persian Gulf coast in the south, we 
became convinced of a dirty little secret about U.S. policy toward Iraq: The status quo suits all 
parties concerned, thank you very much. All parties, that is, except the vast majority of Iraq's 23 
million people. But unfortunately for the United States, hewing to the status quo could have 
disastrous unintended consequences as well.

Both inside the Clinton administration and in Baghdad, 
there is a lot of!
 Sturm und Drang about the possibility of an election-year confrontation. (It was four years ago 
this fall that Saddam Hussein struck against the Kurds, demolishing a CIA-funded opposition effort 
and prompting an ineffective missile strike from Washington.) Earlier this month, Hussein's usual 
bluster was punctuated with incursions by Iraqi jets into Saudi Arabia, and his charges that Kuwait 
is stealing Iraq's oil are eerily reminiscent of 1990. Washington has mobilized a Patriot missile 
defense unit for quick dispatch to Israel and issued the now-standard warnings to the Mustachioed 

A new crisis is always possible. Hussein's craving for the limelight is second only to his 
survival instinct. But behind the headlines, an odd balance has settled over the standoff between 
Baghdad and Washington--a sort of codependency now entering its second decade. Secretary of State 
Madeleine K. Albright underscored this when she announced 10 days ago that the Clinton 
administration would !
not use force to compel Hussein to accept the return of U.N. weapons inspectors. We can almost see 
Hadi nodding his head.

From the viewpoint of all the major players, at least in the short term, 
there is much to like about the current stalemate.

Consider the Iraqi leader. It's not news that 
the 10-year-old U.N. sanctions on Iraq, which have done such damage to Iraqi society, no longer 
seem to threaten his grip on power. But we were surprised to discover just how much the sanctions 
are helping Hussein. He would be happy to see an end to the embargo. But in the meantime, with oil 
prices at their highest in a decade, he and his supporters have come to rely on oil smuggling for 
their skyrocketing wealth.

On a driving tour of the Iraqi capital, we were amazed at the Beverly 
Hills-style mansions rising in the fashionable Mansour district. (No pictures, please; too many 
VIPs, our ever-present "minders" from the Ministry of Information warned us.) Walking past 
sparkling new stores !
with cosmetics, jet skis and high-tech televisions piled high, we saw how comfortable life has 
become for Hussein and his sycophants. "You can get anything you want here if you can afford it," 
says George Sommerwill, the U.N. spokesman in Baghdad.

For the perpetually neglected Kurdish 
minority, times are also good. The same sanctions regime, along with the four-year-old U.N. program 
that allows Iraq to sell oil to purchase food and medicines, has, ironically, made the Kurdish 
areas in the north more stable and prosperous than in decades. That's because Hadi and 3.5 million 
other Kurds get a 13-percent cut of oil-for-food revenues. They also have come to rely on a brisk 
oil smuggling business across the Turkish border. Tanker trucks line up by the hundreds to enter 
Iraq and fill up with the illegal export. "It's our share!" our local guide insisted when asked 
whether the oil is legal under U.N. sanctions. The Kurds also "tax" the goods that illegally enter 
Iraq from Turkey. Wi!
th aid workers building schools and hospitals, and American jets patrolling the skies above 
northern Iraq, the Kurds are not about to be on the leading edge of another risky effort to 
overthrow Hussein.

And for the Clinton administration? Oil-for-food has muted some of the 
international condemnation of the United States for the sanctions. More importantly for the White 
House, it can claim to have kept Hussein "in his box." This neutralizes what could otherwise be an 
election-year hazard for Vice President Gore. Despite occasional criticism that the 
administration's Iraq policy is on autopilot, Clinton and his top aides are relieved to be beyond 
the cycle of crises over weapons inspections that led to the Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign 
in December 1998. This explains Albright's having ruled out the use of force. With the Iraqi 
military weakened by the sanctions and Hussein at least appearing to be contained, senior U.S. 
policymakers can more comfortably ignore Iraq and !
focus on other crises.

Prolonging the current policy of sanctions also helps appease a Congress 
that in 1998 funded Iraqi opposition groups attempting to overthrow Hussein. But despite isolated 
outbreaks of revolt over the last two years, the Iraqi internal security services are thriving and 
the regime's confidence is high. It seems every police car is a brand-new Hyundai, and Hussein's 
soldiers sport crisp, new uniforms. As American journalists, we feared the authorities would 
sequester us in Baghdad, but within two days of our arrival we each received permission to travel 
all around Iraq for a week before returning to Baghdad. (Of course, we were always accompanied by 
our minders. Sometimes, it seemed, even the minders had minders.)

After interviews with several 
government officials, we quickly began to understand just how confident and self-satisfied Hussein 
is these days. A.K. Hashimi is a veteran regime figure, given to bombast, and often trotted out to 
feed the governm!
ent line to visiting journalists. "Our situation is much better than it was a year ago," he told 
us. "We are breathing better." Perhaps realizing he had gone too far (in official Iraqi propaganda, 
after all, the sanctions are supposed to be devastating), he clammed up and refused to elaborate. 
Iraq's deputy oil minister even bragged about how sanctions have been good for the oil industry in 
certain ways, having forced Iraqis to develop a domestic capability rather than rely on foreign oil 

The status quo might be the policy path of least resistance for Washington, but the 
long-term costs for all sides are great--and growing. Because Iraq has become so isolated, most of 
these are invisible to Americans. Sanctions have decimated the middle class--usually the source of 
leaders who might challenge the government. Iraqi schools are crumbling--UNICEF says up to half are 
unfit for learning. Iraqis have just suffered through their hottest and driest summer in recent 
peratures regularly topped 120 degrees--with daily power cuts in most of the country. (We did 
notice, however, that certain privileged parts of Baghdad, and Hussein's palaces, never seemed to 
go dark.) While food is more plentiful these days, child mortality remains dangerously high. Many 
people have sold their household belongings just to get by. We met a man wearing 17-year-old 
trousers and children clad in shredded shirts.

Life is toughest on the young, who are often 
obliged to drop out of school to help their families. "There are no dreams anymore," said Jassan 
Abdul-Hassan, 23, a shop clerk playing soccer on a pebble-strewn dirt field in the seething slum of 
Saddam City on the outskirts of Baghdad. A desperately poor enclave of 2 million, this was the only 
place our minders grew visibly nervous the longer we stayed. Journalists, they told us, have been 
pelted with rotten fruit in the past. But we wondered whether our minders' true concern was that we 
might find in Saddam!
 City the roots of real anti-government sentiment.

For now, the peoples' anger is directed at 
Washington. But current U.S. policy risks producing an entire generation of Iraqis who hate not 
just the government but the American people. "America is sowing the seeds of hatred and one day it 
will harvest them," Sa'ad Jassim, a resident of the southern city of Basra, said while playing a 
game of backgammon.

U.S. officials argue that Hussein is to blame for most of the hardship. He is 
spending money to build palaces, government buildings and one of the largest mosques in the Middle 
East, while failing to construct schools or hospitals. True, but it is the sanctions, which the 
United States spearheaded, that permit such manipulation. They give Iraq's leader the perfect 
excuse to neglect his people. In effect, Washington has made itself the scapegoat for all of Iraq's 
problems. And while many Iraqis listen to non-state media like the Voice of America, they still 
blame the United Sta!
tes. Even away from our minders' prying ears, the most Iraqis would admit is that Hussein shares 
blame with the United States. "It takes two to tango," one retired civil servant told us 

Another frightening consequence of the status quo is a steady erosion in respect for 
the sanctions internationally, and with it the persuasive powers of the U.N. and the United States. 
Visits to Baghdad like that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez show how tattered is the effort to 
isolate Hussein. We competed for rooms at our gloomy Baghdad hotel with Yugoslav and Pakistani 
businessmen. Iraqi entrepreneurs are traveling abroad to sign deals to import and distribute 
foreign goods, and even Gulf oil sheikdoms have reopened embassies to facilitate trade.

If the 
United States really wanted to make life difficult for Hussein, it would take one simple, if 
politically risky, step: Lift the sanctions on all but military items. This would restore morality 
to U.S. policy. More importantly!
, Iraqis would suddenly have only Hussein to blame for the country's decrepit hospitals, schools 
and infrastructure. He would claim victory in the short-term, but would quickly find it difficult 
to deliver on all the promises of a better life once sanctions are lifted. (Remember, according to 
Iraqi propaganda, the sanctions are to blame for every ill, from the drought to the national soccer 
team's recent listless performance.) Iraqis remember a much better, more prosperous life and will 
expect real improvements immediately.

Hussein also would have a serious problem satisfying the 
financial demands of the military, the government bureaucracy, his cronies and the religious 
community he has come to depend upon for support. The resulting competition would put new strains 
on the regime, which could quickly be beset by serious infighting. Such internal conflict could 
finally produce enough of a split to spawn some credible high-level opposition inside Iraq.

Despite its campaign to!
 end sanctions, the Iraqi government is ill-prepared for change. Power stations cannot supply both 
homes and factories. At the main port south of Basra, only 5 percent of the floodlights work and 
fewer than one in five loading cranes is operational. The University of Basra's medical school is 
turning out half the doctors it did before the Persian Gulf War. The state's financial system is in 
a shambles. While the exchange rate is about 2,000 dinars to the dollar, the largest bill is a 
250-dinar note. That means that an inch-thick stack of bills is worth less than $25, hardly a sound 
basis for healthy trade.

To check out of our hotel before the overland trip back to Jordan took 
two shopping bags full of local currency. Each of the roughly 8,000 purplish notes bore Saddam's 
image, an inescapable part of Iraq's landscape. Unless Clinton or his successor reexamines the 
status quo of sanctions, Hussein's image may be on the currency for a long time to come.

Strobel and Kevi!
n Whitelaw cover international affairs for U.S. News & World Report. They recently returned 
from a two-week reporting trip to 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

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