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The Horror of Life Under Saddam Hussein

I wish to call your attention to a widespread practice of writers on the
sanctions in this, my first contribution to the list. Contributors to
this discussion and writers disposed generally to be sympathetic to the
Iraqi people almost invariably preface their denunciation of the
sanctions and their consequences with a condemnation of Saddam Hussein.
"There is no gainsaying the brutality of the Iraqi dictator," they say
in various ways, "but. . ." And then they move on to a re-telling of the
far greater brutality of the Clinton-Blair-Albright cabal.

I find this ceremonial execration of Saddam to be tiresome in its
repetition, bootless in its needless concession to the CBA group
mentioned above, and puzzling as logic. Tariq Ali takes note of the
practice in his editorial in the New Left Review (Sep-Oct 2000) when he
writes that  "No theme is more cherished by left-liberal camp followers
of officialdom" than "that the domestic enormities of Saddam's regime
are so extreme that any measure is warranted to get rid of him." Tariq
himself succumbs to the tendency when he argues that Ba'ath brutality is
undeniable, but not unique among present and past satellites of the
United States.

I have no expertise on matters of Iraqi daily existence prior to the
Desert Storm assault, therefore I can only recall what others more
knowledgeable than I say is part of the tragedy of Iraq: that by many
measures of social and economic well-being Iraq was well in advance of
its neighbors. The systems of health, public education, social security,
etc. were enviable -- so the story goes. When Dan Rather walked the
streets of Baghdad just before the war the scene mutatis mutandis was a
pleasant one: people who appeared to be well fed and well dressed moving
through attractive public spaces in pursuit of whatever business seemed
to them important at the moment. Perhaps some or many of them were
brooding about political repression or some other form of denial of
rights. I could not say. I know that as a young man in the United States
of  1950s and as a broadcaster with a major network 1969-1993 I was
constantly aware of the change for the worse in American life from my
formative years. Never, however, did I describe the reigning
characteristic of that life as brutal however stupid and unjust many
features of it were.

My question to the list is this: how did a dictator as depraved and as
brutal as Saddam was supposed to be from mid summer 1990 permit his
country to provide those elevated levels of well-being noted above? And
would he today, if sanctions were ended and Iraq were permitted to live
as, say, Greece or Morocco are permitted to live, apply the screws to
the people out of some innate brutality? Forgive my naiveté, but I don't
get the change in character. If an end of sanctions would do nothing to
ameliorate the plight of the Iraqi people, then we should all sign on to
a Get Saddam campaign. If Saddam is only another excuse for the
brutality of Albrights, Cohen, Gore, and their crowd, let's forget these
ritualistic obeisances. One reason I shall not be voting for Gore next
month is that American style liberalism concedes half the field to the
opposition before it even buckles on its sword. I would like to stop
conceding points to the destroyers of Iraq by painting it as a vile
place with or without sanctions.

Alan Bickley
Port of Spain, Trinidad

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