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# RE: [casi] Building Palaces, while Iraq burns...

• From: "Colin Rowat" <c.rowat@DELETETHISespero.org.uk>
• Subject: RE: [casi] Building Palaces, while Iraq burns...
• Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2002 16:32:05 +0100

> Here is what I found:
>
> "The fact that Saddam Hussein is spending hundreds of millions to
> build palaces and refusing to use the humanitarian programme the
> United Nations has authorised shows the hypocrisy of his claims
> that he is concerned about his people's suffering." - UN official...

Thank you Anai and Roger.  The pages from which Anai quotes
(http://www.inc.org.uk/English/info/palaces.htm) are maintained by the Iraqi
National Congress, a US-based and financed opposition group.  They are a
political organisation, and their statements reflect this.

At core, there seems to be the following truth: the Iraqi regime has built
palaces when it could have used the same resources to engage in other
construction projects.  In particular, given the state of Iraq's schools,
use of some of those resources on schools might have had a significant
positive impact on education in Iraq.  What I have a harder time assessing
is the social role of the palaces: do they help solidify Saddam's rule,
either by presenting physical monuments to it or by allowing the granting of
favours to the Iraqi elite?  If so, then they may not be frivolous expenses,
from the point of view of the regime.

On top of this core is built a variety of claims.  The INC website goes on
to say:

> Saddam Hussein has spent more than 2 billion dollars since 1990
> building new palaces and renovating old ones. There are at least
> 50 palaces and luxury residences around Iraq for the sole use of
> Saddam and his family. One of them is larger than Versailles.

The $2 billion figure seems to have first been used by Madeleine Albright in April 1996. Footnote 40 in "Sanctions Against Iraq: Costs of Failure", Peter Boone, Haris Gazdar, and Athar Hussain (Nov. 1997, http://www.cesr.org/text%20files/iraqecon.PDF) notes that: \begin{quote} For instance, while arguing against the relaxation of sanctions in April 1996, Madeleine Albright, the former US ambassador to the UN asserted that Iraq had spent over$2 billion on building palaces for President Saddam
Hussein. This estimate was found to have been based on highly dubious
methodology and was not subsequently repeated.
\end{quote}

A report the previous year, also commissioned by the US Center for Economic
and Social Rights, provided slightly more detail:

\begin{quote}
The U.S. representative to the U.N., Ambassador Albright, recently claimed
that the government has
spent one billion dollars building palaces over the last five years.
footnote 53: Interview aired on CBS’ 60 Minutes (May 12, 1996).] ... Given
the limited revenues of the government and the current low wages and
building material costs for goods produced in Iraq, it is very unlikely that
Albright’s estimate is accurate. [footnote 55: The US Mission, which
originally put forth the figure of \$1 billion for palaces, has since stated
that the estimate was based on “the cost of constructing similar buildings
in the region,” and therefore did not take account of Iraq’s peculiar
economic conditions. However, the devaluation of the dinar means that it is
significantly cheaper to build projects in Iraq then elsewhere “in the
region.” The Mission was not able to confirm what portion of expenditure, if
any, might come from foreign exchange earnings. Meeting between CESR members
Roger Normand and Sarah Zaidi and the U.S. Mission representatives
Thomas Countryman and David Shapiro (May 15, 1996).
[http://www.cesr.org/text%20files/sanct.PDF]
\end{quote}

The explanation given in footnote 55 is slightly misleading: the collapse in
the Iraqi dinar itself wouldn't suffice to make construction cheaper in Iraq
than it is elsewhere in the region.  The collapse in Iraq's economy,
producing high unemployment and low wages, is the main source of the reduced
costs.

"presidential sites", the UN surveyed the sites to be covered by a
"memorandum of understanding" governing their inspection.  The result of
that process was described in two letters by the UN Secretary-General,
S/1998/166 (27/2/98, http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/letters/1998/s1998166.htm)
http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/letters/1998/s1998167.htm).

These explain that eight sites are covered.  As to their area:

\begin{quote}
The total area surveyed amounts to about 31.5 square kilometres. The largest
presidential site, the Radwaniyah, totalled around 17.8 square kilometres
and the smallest 0.8 square kilometres. The area covered by artificial lakes
is estimated to add up to approximately 10.2 square kilometres.
\end{quote, S/1998/166/Add.1 Annex II, para. 14}

I don't know whether the Versailles referred to by the INC is the city of
Versailles or merely one of the palaces there.

Best,

Colin Rowat

work | Room 406, Department of Economics | The University of Birmingham |
Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK | web.bham.ac.uk/c.rowat | (+44/0) 121 414 3754 |
(+44/0) 121 414 7377 (fax) | c.rowat@bham.ac.uk

personal | (+44/0) 7768 056 984 (mobile) | (+44/0) 7092 378 517 (fax) |
(707) 221 3672 (US fax) | c.rowat@espero.org.uk

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