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[casi] News, 19-26/4/02 (4)

News, 19-26/4/02 (4)


*  Business as usual in Iraq
by Kim Ghattas
BBC, 23rd April

Despite the growing US calls for a regime change
in Iraq and a military strike possibly
looming on the horizon, life in Iraq seems to be
continuing as usual.

No-one is stocking up on food and there is no
visible out-of-the-ordinary military activity. For
the past 12 years, Iraqis have learned to live
with the threat of a major US strike.

In northern and southern Iraq, where US and
British planes enforce a no-fly zone, Iraqis also
got used to the occasional air strike in which
the exchange of fire between planes and Iraqi
anti-aircraft guns sometimes results in the death
of civilians.

Still, Iraqis are afraid. "We are very afraid, we
don't know what is going to happen," said one
vendor in the Shiite town of Najaf, south of
Baghdad. "Everything is bad, the economic
situation is terrible, we're not selling

When they are not praising their president,
Iraqis are often reluctant to give their names.

In Baghdad, Iraqis also voice their concerns
about the future and fears that chaos is going to
come to their country again.

But they seem to accept the uncertainty with some
kind of fatalistic resignation. Iraqi officials
dismiss the US threats insisting that all plans
to topple the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein will

Baath party Abdel Razzak el Hashimi, leading
member of the Baath party and adviser to the
Iraqi president, said that while the US tried to
portray Iraq as a threat to the region, the trade
agreements Iraq is signing with one Arab country
after the other, were proof to the contrary.

During the Arab League summit in Beirut in March,
Iraq secured Arab support against a US
strike in exchange for recognition of Kuwait's

Arab solidarity however has always been more
about show than concrete action.

"The US should learn from its recent experience
in Venezuela, when they had some of their
stooges trying to overthrow [President Hugo]
Chavez, the people put him back," Abdel
Razzak el Hashim said.

"When the people support their president no one
can do anything about it, not even the United

How much the Iraqis support Saddam Hussein is
difficult to tell.

The Shiite south of Iraq is where a popular
rebellion started in the aftermath of the 1991
War and there are expectations that if and when
the US embarks on its adventure to topple
Saddam Hussein, Shiites as well Kurds in northern
Iraq will rise against the regime again.

But Wamid Nathmi, political science professor at
the Baghdad University says nothing is

"If the Americans are taking the Kurds and the
Shiites for granted in their endeavor to
overthrow the regime, they are making an awful
mistake," he said. "It's true the Americans
gave support to the Kurds, but nothing more than
that, The Kurds were hoping for an
independent state."

For the moment though, the US strike has been put
on the backburner because of the violence
between Palestinians and Israelis.

Iraq has been strenghtening ties with other Arab

Iraq is definitely taking advantage of this time
not only to strengthen its ties - most business -
with its neighbours but also to portray itself as
the only Arab country that is effectively
supporting the Palestinians.

The Iraqi president has declared an oil embargo
in support of the Palestinians. He also sends
funds to families of 'martyrs' - now up from
$10,000 to $25,000 as well as another $25,000
for each house destroyed in the town of Jenin in
the West Bank during the Israeli operation
Defensive Shield.

An apparent sign that Iraq is aware it has some
breathing space, is the indefinite postponement
of arms inspection talks at the UN that were
supposed to take place on 18 April.

Iraq said it was keen not to overshadow the
Palestinian cause.

Talks will be probably be rescheduled when Iraq
feels the heat again. University professor
Nathmi still believes that a US strike is not

"I don't think that it would do any harm if Iraq
accepted the return of the arms inspectors," he
said, adding this would pre-empt US efforts to
justify a military strike. The Iraqis would like
to believe him.

This is the first in a series of features from
inside Iraq by Kim Ghattas for BBC News Online.

*  Iraq's middle class wiped out
by Kim Ghattas
BBC, 24th April

In the days before the Gulf War, people in the
Arab world mocked big spenders by telling
them to stop being such Baghdadis.

But since 1991, life in Iraq has changed
dramatically - the country's GDP has dropped from
US$3,000 to $715 and doctors have had to learn
anew how to treat diseases that had
disappeared from Iraq in the 1980s such as
cholera and diphtheria.

For the past 12 years, the country has been
struggling under UN-imposed sanctions, which
have greatly affected the life of the Iraqis but
done little to undermine the power of Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein.

Iraq's middle class has been almost completely
wiped out while poverty is spreading and
people with close ties to the regime are becoming

The Ibrahimi family was once part of the middle

Today, the father's salary is about $6 a month
compared to about $300 before 1991. With four
children to feed, the Ibrahimis suddenly found
themselves having to follow a strict budget
after 1991.

"We sold everything we had: our car, my
jewellery, vases, paintings, everything," says the
mother, Fardos.

She used to work before the Gulf War and often
bought ready-made meals for her family
when she was too busy.

Now the family relies heavily on the government's
food rations and meat is rare on the family's

After the Gulf War, Mrs Ibrahimi quit her job to
get a lump sum of money from her pension
to keep the family going.

"It was especially hard at the beginning, there
was nothing available, we suffered a lot," she

But in 1996, Iraq accepted the UN-administered
oil-for-food programme, under which Iraq
can purchase food as well other UN-approved items
with the income from oil sales.

Since then, living conditions have slowly
improved but while most Iraqis are better off than
people living in many developing countries, they
are still hurt to see how far they are today
from their pre-Gulf War living standards.

Two years ago, the Ibrahimi's oldest daughter,
Sarar, started working as a secretary in a
Turkish company in Baghdad, adding $50 to the
family's monthly income.

But this still doesn't make up for their life
before the embargo.

A plastic bag with photos is brought out and
pictures are passed around of trips to Turkey and
Bulgaria, weekends in the countryside and
birthday parties with dozens of guests.

Now birthday cakes are too expensive to make and
traveling impossible because of the $340
government exit tax. This is what makes Sarar,
24, most unhappy.

Fardos Ibrahimi "I feel like I am in a nightmare
because I am very ambitious," says the young
woman who was dreaming of going to university in
the UK.

"I want to do many things. I want to progress, I
want to travel and see the world, to work in
something I love. And every time I reduce my
ambition, there is a struggle between myself
and my ambition," she adds.

Sarar says most of her friends are depressed,
especially because getting married and founding
a family has become too expensive for young
people. Her mother is also depressed.

"I had everything when I was young, life was
easy," says Mrs Ibrahimi. "I never once thought
my children's future would be so uncertain."

With the US planning a military strike against
Iraq, Iraqis feel the future now looks even more

This is the second in a series of features from
inside Iraq by Kim Ghattas for BBC News

*  Saddam: Sentimental, terrifying and ruthless
by Peter Carlson
Toronto Star (apparently from Washington Post),
24th April

WASHINGTON — Saddam Hussein is a charming
man who tells funny,
self-deprecating stories. He loved Hemingway's
The Old Man and the Sea, and has written two
novels himself, both of them romantic fables.
He's a sentimental fellow who cries easily and
has been known to weep for days after having an
old colleague executed.

The Iraqi dictator rises early, works long hours
and always keeps his desk immaculate. At 64,
he exercises daily and eats a healthy diet of
fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. He's a family
married for more than 40 years, and a hands-on
dad who used to take his two sons to his
prisons, so they could watch his enemies being
tortured and killed.

"He enjoys movies, particularly those involving
intrigue, assassination, and conspiracy
— The Day of the Jackal, The Conversation,
Enemy of the State," writes Mark Bowden
in his extraordinary profile of Saddam in the May
issue of Atlantic Monthly. "Because he has
not travelled extensively, such movies inform his
ideas about the world and feed his
inclination to believe broad conspiracy theories."

Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, interviewed
many of Saddam's exiled former
colleagues and produced an amazingly intimate
portrait of the tyrant. Among tales of
psychopathic dictators, this one is perhaps the
best since Nikita Khrushchev's 1970 memoirs
revealed what it was like to party down with
Joseph Stalin.

Stalin, it turns out, is one of Saddam's heroes.
In one chilling anecdote in Bowden's story, a
Kurdish politician meets with Saddam early one
morning in a tiny office in one of the
dictator's many palaces. Saddam is in his
bathrobe. There's a cot in the room. Next to the
are a dozen pairs of expensive shoes. The rest of
the room is filled with books — every
one of them about Stalin.

Bowden's article abounds with accounts of
terrifying meetings with Saddam.

In 1996, for example, a group of top Iraqi
military officers were summoned to meet with him.
First, they were forced to strip to their
underwear and wait while their clothes were X-
laundered and sterilized. Then they got dressed,
rode in a bus with blackened windows to a
building where they were seated around a table
and instructed not to interrupt Saddam or ask
questions. Then they listened to a two-hour rant
against America. No one else uttered a single

Why would they? They all knew the story of Omar
al-Hazzaa, an Iraqi general overheard
speaking ill of Saddam in 1990. His tongue was
cut out before he, and his son, were executed.

What about the warm, fuzzy Saddam? Well, he did
donate blood — a pint at a time for
three years — so a calligrapher could
handcraft a 600-page copy of the Qur'an. It's now
in a Baghdad museum, every word written in the
dictator's blood.

*  Iraqis seek refuge in religion
by Kim Ghattas
BBC, 25th April

More and more Iraqis are going to the mosque;
more and more Iraqi women are wearing the

This is an unusual phenomenon in a country that
has always been staunchly secular and is
ruled by the secular Baath party. But for Iraqis,
struggling with life after two wars and 12
years of sanctions, religion is slowly becoming a

"We feel we need support, we need peace, so we
pray," said a young Iraqi, who only gave his
name as Wajed.

"Everybody seeks a refuge somewhere. Some people
here turned to art, I turned to God," he

The growing religious mood was first perceived as
a threat by the Iraqi regime but instead of
stopping it, the regime co-opted it and religious
fundamentalism is not tolerated.

Religion is now used to promote the Iraqi
president not only as an Arab leader but also a
Muslim one. There is also an attempt to use
religion to try to erase religious differences

A slight majority of Iraqis are Shia but they are
under-represented and they have rebelled
against the regime before.

"Iraq always been a secular state and the Baath
has always been a secular party," said Abdel
Razzak al Hashimi, a leading member of the Baath

"But we are aiming at a better understanding of
religion as a factor uniting people. It's very
important when the country is under threat, so
that the people are united around the leadership
and around the objectives of this leadership," he

It all started in 1991, during the Gulf War, when
President Saddam Hussein added the words
"Allahu Akbar", Arabic for "God is great", to the
Iraqi flag and promised he would liberate
Jerusalem, a holy site for Muslims.

A few years later, the Iraqi leader, a Sunni
Muslim, launched what is called the "Faith
Campaign", making the studying of the Koran
compulsory in schools across Iraq. In 1996,
alcohol was banned in restaurants.

He is sending thousands of dollars to Palestinian
families who have lost relatives or their
homes in the violence in the Palestinian

By doing so he appeals not only to the
Palestinians but also to other Muslims in the Arab
world, who are disenchanted with their own rulers
and see Saddam Hussein as a hero.

Sheikh Abdel Ghafoor al Qaysi, Vice-President of
the Saddam University for Islamic studies
in Baghdad, explains with great pride that every
year, for the Iraqi leader's birthday on 28
April, which is celebrated in great pomp, a new
mosque is inaugurated and construction is
started on another one.

The Iraqi president's latest gift to posterity is
the Saddam mosque, on the road to the airport.

Construction started in 1999 and the mosque will
be the biggest in the Middle East.

Before that, Saddam Hussein built the Mother of
all Battles mosque, in reference to the name
he gave to the 1991 Gulf War.

Surrounding the dome are eight minarets, four
that are shaped like Scud missiles sitting on a
launch pad and four like machine-gun barrels.

Inside the mosque lies a Koran inscribed in the
blood of the Iraqi leader, or so Iraqi officials

The Iraqi president reportedly donated 50 pints
of blood to write the holy book.

"Our leader, the great believer Saddam Hussein,
always called on people to go back to religion
and real values," said Sheikh al Qaysi.

"He is our example, our school in religion and
faith. Our great project now is to start teaching
the sayings of the Iraqi president in

Sahar Saadi, mother-of-four But Iraqi society
seems to remain secular at heart. Iraqi artists,
renowned in the region, are still painting nude
bodies, which is unheard of in other Muslim

At home, people still enjoy a drink or two if
they can afford it and although the number of
veiled woman is growing, it is still less common
than even in Jordan or Egypt.

"It's great to have more mosques - this way I
don't have to go very far to pray," says Sahar
Saadi, a mother-of-four shopping at the Shorja
market in central Baghdad.

"Religion is important for me, but it's good that
nothing is imposed on anyone," says the
middle-aged woman who does not wear the veil, or

In private, however, many Iraqis complain about
the exorbitant amount of money invested in
building these mosques - as well on the dozens of
presidential palaces, while ordinary Iraqis
barely have enough to survive on.

Although it might be a refuge, they know religion
alone is not going to provide the answers,
especially not if it is used as a tool by the

This is the third in a series of features from
inside Iraq by Kim Ghattas for BBC News Online.,,3-

*  Play goes on for Saddam, still the survivor at
by Michael Theodoulou in Cyprus
The Times, 26th April

THE world’s most resilient leader, President
Saddam Hussein of Iraq, will celebrate his 65th
birthday this Sunday.

With the United States seemingly determined to
make it his last, the Iraqi .dictator is ensuring
that this year’s party will be one to remember.

As part of the celebrations, the Iraqi National
Theatre is today staging its biggest production
yet: a theatrical adaptation of Saddam’s debut
novel, Zabiba and the King.

When it was published more than a year ago, it
received rave reviews from the local press. It is
a morale-boosting allegory of the Iraqi leader’s
confrontation with the evil West, which
combines romance, patriotism and adventure with
frank sexual passages.

It has been avidly deconstructed by Western
intelligence officials for insights into the
dictator’s mind. The 160-page novel, its cover
graced by the picture of an alluring woman,
was adapted for the stage by the Palestinian-born
poet Adeeb Nasir.

The Iraqi Ministry of Culture quoted the poet as
saying: ‘It took me one year to read the epic
novel ... but I made it into a play in 15 days.’

It remains to be seen whether Saddam will attend
tonight’s premiere. He has not made a public
appearance at his birthday celebrations for
several years because he fears an assassination

At his 56th birthday, he paraded through Baghdad
sporting a white suit and with his hair dyed
jet black, in a golden chariot drawn by six

On Sunday, as ever, there will be street
carnivals with schoolgirls singing’Happy Birthday
You, Papa Saddam’. Baghdad shopkeepers have hung
banners extolling their President who
has been in power since 1979. ‘Saddam Hussein is
the gift of Iraq’ and ‘Saddam is poetry and
homeland’, they read.

Inspired by the leader’s militant, pro-
Palestinian speeches, a banner across one
chemist’s shop
reads: ‘Iraq is Palestine: a single people and a
fight that continues against Zionism.’

Zhafer Amhad, the shop-owner, said: ‘We mark the
President’s birthday every year, but this
time we have highlighted Iraq’s solidarity with
the Palestinian people.’

He added: ‘US threats do not scare us. Thirty-
three states attacked us and we are still here.’

The occasion of Saddam’s birthday is often used
by Iraqi officials to remind the world how
Saddam has outlasted so many of those leaders who
lined up against him in the 1991 Gulf
War, among them President Bush’s father, Margaret
Thatcher and François Mitterrand, the late
French President.

‘They’re pulling out all the stops this year,’ a
spokesman for the opposition Iraqi National
Congress said. ‘Once again, Saddam celebrates his
birthday in lavish style while the Iraqi
people continue to suffer.’

Zabiba and the King was published anonymously,
but, given the gushing official reviews it
received, there were few doubts that it was
devised by the Iraqi leader. Saddam’s humility was
allegedly the reason for his coyness in claiming
authorship, although that has never prevented
him from having his statue or portrait on many of
the city’s street corners.

More likenesses of Saddam are expected to be
unveiled for the birthday of the dictator who
has survived wars, insurrections, coup plots and
assassination attempts.

Zabiba and the King is the tale of an
introspective king who falls in love with a
Zabiba, who represents the Iraqi people. She has
a cruel, estranged husband, who serves as a
metaphor for Iraq’s Western enemies and their
Arab allies.

The husband rapes Zabiba on January 17, which is
the day that the coalition led by the United
States began the Gulf War against Iraq to
liberate Kuwait. In the work the king reveals his
insecurities, by pondering his death and
succession. Saddam has not allowed threats of an
American attack to distract him from his creative

He published a second supposedly anonymous novel
last year, called The Impregnable
Fortress. Its title serves as a blunt message to
President Bush that he would be wasting his time
in attacking Iraq.

Iraqi television hailed it as a great artistic
work, although ordinary Iraqis were less

An Iraqi businessman in Jordan said of Saddam’s
first novel: ‘The king speaks to Zabiba in
the way Saddam might address a member of his
Revolutionary Command Council.

‘The language is as tortuous as his speeches and
the subject matter is very egotistical.’

Saddam is said to have long had literary
ambitions. Although he did not attend school
until he
was at least eight, he later read voraciously,
taking a particular interest in biographies of
historical figures, including Stalin.

Iraqi newspapers reported last month that two
more novels, which they hinted were written by
the Iraqi leader, would soon be published.

Despite crippling trade sanctions that have been
in effect since Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait
in 1990, his birthday celebrations have become
more lavish every year. The embargo has left
Saddam’s elite unscathed while ordinary Iraqis
have become impoverished.

On his 60th birthday he inaugurated yet another
mosque named in his honour, posing as a
devout leader to rally Arab and Muslim support.
At the time he promised to celebrate future
birthdays by opening a new mosque in each of
Iraq’s 18 provinces. The grandiose plan was
seen as a defiant message to the US that he
intended to remain in power until at least 2015.

According to this year’s slogans, he is ‘the
eternal spring’ and ‘the sun of the Arabs’.


‘Here I am, Iraq, the land of prophets. We will
only bend before God. Evil be to the cowards
and lackeys’

‘I’m a great leader. You must obey me. Not only
that, you must love me’

‘Rape is the most serious of crimes, whether it
is a man raping a woman or invading armies
raping the homeland or the usurpation of rights’

*  Iraq Diary Part 12: The Carthaginian solution
by Pepe Escobar
Asia Times, 26th April

BAGHDAD - Huda Ammash is usually introduced by
members of the ruling Baath Party as
"one of the great ladies of Iraq". The PhD from
the University of Missouri is an environmental
biologist, head of the Iraqi Society of
Microbiology and the leading Iraqi expert on the
environmental and biological impact of the UN-
imposed - and US and British-controlled -
embargo and sanctions.

Dr Ammash regards an embargo "enforced against a
whole nation" as an "unprecedented
crime against humanity". As for the United
Nations' "oil for food" program, she argues, "It
not providing food or medicine for the
population. It is intentionally aimed to make the
international community think Iraq is getting the
essentials." But only five items are provided
to millions who depend on food aid: rice, tea,
sugar, cooking oil and flour. This is peanuts for
a population that previously enjoyed one of the
highest standards of living in the developing

Ammash emphasizes that "the US would like to
create new UN resolutions on top of those
agreed in 1991. All those were implemented. Iraq
has done its duties completely." She
remembers - correctly - that according to Article
14 of UN Resolution 687 adopted in 1991,
"The whole Middle East region should be clear of
weapons of mass destruction." But the US
has always allowed Israel to develop the world's
sixth-largest nuclear program - as it had
allowed Israel to collaborate in the nuclear
program of apartheid South Africa.

The US still refuses to acknowledge Israel's
nuclear arsenal. And the US has been the main
supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and
Israel itself. So here's the bottom line: the
US is contravening the same UN resolution with
which it maintains arguments for sustaining
the sanctions.

Ammash gives many reasons Iraq does not and
cannot support terrorism. "Iraq does not have
fluidity of money since 1991 to finance
terrorism; Iraqi banks are forbidden to deal in
currency; there's no way to wash out money in the
Iraqi financial system; flying is prohibited;
Iraq cannot train anybody to hijack planes; our
airports are closed for regular international

On the other hand, she says, because of the
embargo "we cannot even have a normal medical
test. Chemotherapy is forbidden in hospitals. We
cannot have a letter of more than 20 grams
sent from abroad."

Ammash paints an absolutely Orwellian picture of
what the UN inspectors were actually doing
in the country during the 1990s. They inspected
all the labs in all 18 university campuses in
Iraq: "For us, a campus - we called it a haram -
is a holy place; it's part of our culture." She
says "we had to answer 13 questions regarding
each instrument of each lab in each department
in each college in each university. For a single
question not answered, the country was
considered not in compliance to the inspections."
Ammash says "we went through this for
eight-and-a-half years. No one can accuse Iraq
for not giving them enough time for the
mechanism to succeed. Iraq gave them facilities,
vehicles, instruments and paid their daily
allowances and salaries. These 'experts' were
provided with time, facilities and money. After
eight-and-a-half years you should have finished
your job - or there must be something wrong
in your mechanism."

Even the government of the United States was
forced to recognize there was indeed
"something wrong". Washington had to admit some
of the "inspectors" were actually spies.
Dennis Haliday - the man who resigned from his
post of director of the UN "oil for food"
program when he realized that "we are in the
process of destroying an entire society" -
reminded the world in the beginning of 1999 of
what Iraqis had been saying for years: the UN
Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspectors "were in
fact spying and collecting data that was
then used against them in military strikes".

During the 1990s alone, the US and the UK dropped
more than 1,800 bombs on Iraq and hit
more than 450 targets. The Pentagon spent more
than US$1 billion just to keep a force of 200
planes, 19 warships and 22,000 troops involved in
these bombings. Even "foreign affairs" -
one of the mouthpieces of the American
establishment - recognized that the slow-motion
Anglo-American war against the people of Iraq had
resulted in "hundreds of thousands of
deaths" - besides depriving the country of more
than $150 billion in oil revenue, causing
hyperinflation, and contributing to widespread
mass poverty and mass unemployment: a social
and economic catastrophe.

Washington and London continue to maintain that
the sanctions must remain to prevent Iraq
from attacking its neighbors - or, implausibly,
the rest of the world. Bill Clinton said that the
sanctions should remain "until the end of time,
or as long as he [Saddam] lasts". But one
month in Iraq is enough to certify that the
sanctions mechanism is absolutely indefensible.

In the beginning of the 1990s, Iraq was saying
goodbye to the Third World. It was a
dictatorship, of course, and there was no free
press, but economic and social rights were very
much respected. The country had a high standard
of living, an excellent educational system
and the best health system in the Middle East.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - like Dr
Ammash - had the opportunity to receive advanced
degrees abroad. In the new millennium,
Iraq has been reduced to total technological
underdevelopment. So the Anglo-American
program for Iraq has been to add to the violation
of the the population's political rights the
violation of their economic and social rights as

Dennis Haliday has never stopped saying for these
past three years that "genocide is taking
place right now, every day, in Iraqi cities. It's
an active policy of continuing sanctions." But it
was Noam Chomsky, in a lecture in Cambridge,
Massachussets, also in the beginning of 1999,
who best explained the rationale for the
sanctions and the slow motion Anglo-American war
against the people of Iraq. It's worth quoting
him at length:

"There is indeed a way to eliminate the
capability of producing weapons of mass
only one way, and that is the Carthaginian
solution: you totally destroy the society. If you
that, they won't be able to produce weapons of
mass destruction. If you leave an infrastructure,
if you leave educational and scientific
facilities of any kind, if there's a revenue
flow, then you
have a capacity to produce weapons of mass
destruction. So, the only way to end that
capability - we talk about 'terminating' it - is
to wipe the place out.

"That's not going to happen, for a simple reason:
Iraq is the second-largest oil producer in the
world, and it's much too valuable to wipe out.
But you can wipe out its population. In fact, it's
in a way beneficial to do that. If you look at
the history of oil production around the world,
you find that it mostly takes place in areas
where there aren't many people. Then there's
pressure to stop the profits from going to the
people who really should have them: Western oil
companies and the US Treasury. So, if the
population of Iraq were reduced or marginalized,
maybe even reduced to such a level that they're
barely functional, then when the time comes -
and it will - to bring Iraqi production back on
line, they'll be less of an impediment. Iraq will
be more like, say, Saudi Arabia, where there's a
lot of oil but not many people around pressing
for economic development and educational

This is a ruthless "strategy". Asia Times Online
visited hospitals in Baghdad and Basra that
barely have electricity and no access to even
basic medicines to treat a population that is
malnourished and increasingly ill. Professors and
lawyers are forced to make a living driving
battered taxis - usually Volkswagen Passats made
in Brazil in the '70s. Iraq cannot import
books, or paper to print its own books, or even
pencils. This is a culture whose modernity has
always been dependent on constant, vibrant
communication and interaction with the US,
Europe and the Middle East. Men now confront
their angst smoking like chimneys: in fact the
notoriously profitable cigarette-smuggling
business is controlled by Uday, Saddam Hussein's
elder son.

Daily life in Iraq can be hell. There are
practically no working phones: the American bombs
destroyed the telecom infrastructure. Food in
restaurants - for those lucky few who can afford
it - is chicken or kebab, and kebab or chicken.
Booze - sold in a few shops by Christians -
could hardly be a solace: a bottle of good arak
is half the average monthly salary. On the other
hand, Baghdad is awash with exchange shops: these
are for the merchants who do dubious
deals with neighboring countries bypassing the

Who profits from the embargo? According to an
unimpeachable source - a guard in one of
Saddam's palaces who couldn't take it any more
and decided to talk - "only a few government
officials and merchants who got rich". He
confirms that "in every street corner, and in
neighborhood, people are bought to work as
informers". He says that "the Americans, even if
they bomb, want to keep the 'King' [as Saddam is
referred to], because he serves their interests
... All cultivated Iraqis have left," adds the
guard, "There is an opposition, but silent and
uneducated. It's very easy to control them."

The average Iraqi - part of this silent
opposition - is bombarded by a daily TV diet
exclusively of Saddam, Palestine and soccer.
Iraqi TV perfected its own answer to MTV: the
fabulously camp Saddam video, where middle-aged
guys in colorful suits sing and dance,
mixed with a plethora of Saddams in their
thousand-and-one victorious incarnations.

As a legacy of the UNSCOM's spy tactics, any
foreigner is regarded with extreme suspicion.
It's virtually impossible to visit a private
home: everything has to go through central
We have visited families on our own, but when we
wanted to spend more time with others in a
"sensitive" neighborhood, we had to go through
the Union of Iraqi Women - affiliated with the
Baath Party.

As numerous American intellectuals, such as
Chomsky and Edward Herman, have pointed out,
to oppose the sanctions does not mean to support
Saddam Hussein and the iron triumvirate of
Baath Party, the army and the intelligence-
security services. A European delegation was in
Baghdad these past few days protesting against
the sanctions. They wept over their camcorders
watching dying kids in rickety hospitals, they
marveled at their guides performing "exotic"
dances, and they displayed an absolutely
uncritical support of the regime as they organized
their own anti-UN demonstration on a Baghdad
boulevard: the regime loved it, of course, as
they were followed 24 hours a day by at least
three camera crews and became the leading local
news item for a week.

It's easy to forget that the US was in love with
Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. US and
European firms provided Iraq with the necessary
materials to build Saddam's fabled "weapons
of mass destruction". Today, the gangsters of the
Iraqi National Congress provide gullible
Anglo-American journalists with supposedly high-
ranking "defectors" who pinpoint the
locations of a deadly arsenal with which Saddam
could incinerate the whole region. That's
rubbish. Tony Blair may keep on whining, but
there's no evidence - as former UNSCOM
inspector Scott Ritter has stressed - that the
regime holds weapons of mass destruction, apart
from a few old bottles of anthrax.

After a month in Iraq, the inescapable conclusion
is that the embargo, the sanctions and the
regime have completely corroded society - and
provoked widespread corruption. There are
only three social strata left: the poor (the
overwhelming majority), the merchants who profit
from the embargo, and the members of the Baath

Robert Fisk has already pointed out in The
Independent that "what we want in Iraq is another
bullying dictator - but one who will do as he is
told, invade the countries we wish to see
invaded [Iran], and respect the integrity of
those countries we do not wish to see invaded

But a war to remove a leader - Saddam Hussein -
simply does not justify a slow-motion war to
decimate a whole society. The embargo and the
sanctions - not what's allegedly under
Saddam's palaces - are the real weapons of mass
destruction in this case. America, though, is
the new Rome, and Iraq the new Carthage. Delenda
est Carthago is a motto enshrined in
history - Carthage must be destroyed. And
destroyed it was. But Iraq, warns Dr Ammash,
won't die quietly.


*  Belgian MP confers with Iraqi officials
Times of India (from AFP), 20th April

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz
held talks on Friday with Veronique de
Keyser, a Belgian member of the European
Parliament now visiting Baghdad as part of a
European team including Belgian senators, the
official INA news agency reported.

Aziz discussed "US-Zionist threats against the
Iraqi people and leadership on the one hand,
and the Palestinians on the other," with de
Keyser and the 120-odd other European "peace
inspectors," INA said.

"The Iraqi and Palestinian peoples' resistance
will ensure victory over the Arab nation's (US
and Israeli) enemies," Aziz told the visiting
delegation, which includes Belgian senators and
doctors, British and French veterans of the 1991
Gulf War, and representatives of European

The deputy speaker of Iraq's parliament, Hamed
Rasheed al-Rawi, in turn briefed the
European group on the effects of both
the "blatant (US-British) aggression" against
Iraq and
the "unfair (UN) embargo" imposed on the country
since Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

De Keyser said the UN sanctions were "no longer
justified and should be lifted," according to
INA.The "peace inspectors" had on Thursday
marched to the Baghdad office of the UN
Development Program (UNDP), where they handed a
petition addressed to UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan demanding an "immediate
lifting of the embargo" on Iraq.

The team, which flew into Iraq from Brussels on
Sunday, toured Baghdad hospitals on
Monday to assess the effect of the sanctions.

Iraq's health ministry said in February that more
than 1.6 million Iraqis, including nearly
675,000 children aged under five, had died from
diseases and malnutrition caused by the

An "oil-for-food" program allows Iraq to export
crude under UN supervision to buy essential
goods, but Baghdad complains the program does not
meet the needs of its 22-million
population and is demanding a total lifting of
the embargo.

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