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News, 19-26/4/02 (4) INSIDE IRAQ http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east /newsid_1945000/1945768.stm * 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 anything." 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 fail. 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 sovereignty. 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 States." 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 Gulf 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 certain. "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 nations 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 inevitable. "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. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east /newsid_1949000/1949205.stm * 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 richer. The Ibrahimi family was once part of the middle class. 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 table. 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 says. 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 uncertain. This is the second in a series of features from inside Iraq by Kim Ghattas for BBC News Online. http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer? pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1 &c=Article&cid=1019599302661&call_page=TS_News&cal l_pageid=968332188492&call_ pagepath=News/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 man, 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 cot 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- rayed, 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 word. 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. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east /newsid_1950000/1950517.stm * 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 veil. 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 refuge. "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 adds. 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 inside Iraq. 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 party. "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 added. 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 territories. 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 say. 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 universities." 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 countries. 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 hijab. 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 regime. This is the third in a series of features from inside Iraq by Kim Ghattas for BBC News Online. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,3- 278888,00.html * Play goes on for Saddam, still the survivor at 65 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 attempt. 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 horses. On Sunday, as ever, there will be street carnivals with schoolgirls singing’Happy Birthday to 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 commoner, 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 side. 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 impressed. 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’. EXTRACTS FROM ZABIBA AND THE KING ‘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’ http://atimes.com/front/DD26Aa01.html * 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 is 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 world. 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 foreign 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 flights." 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 well. 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 destruction, only one way, and that is the Carthaginian solution: you totally destroy the society. If you do 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 little 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 facilities." 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 embargo. 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 every 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 consisting 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 casting. 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 Party. 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 [Kuwait]". 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. IRAQI/INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow.asp ?art_id=7386241 * 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 NGOs. 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 sanctions. 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. ------------------------------------------------- This mail sent through UK Online webmail _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk