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[casi] please reply to Washington Post

Dear Colleagues,

     Thought someone on this list might want to formulate a response to the
following page one "news" feature in yesterday's Washington Post. It reads to me
like a rehash of press releases from the State Department.

      Sadly, in a awesome act of willed ignorance, this article is accepted by
most in Washington as god's honest truth.

Little by Little, Iraq Shows Signs of Economic Life

By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 17, 2002; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- It was a breezy Monday night, and the mood in Horreya Square
was festive as a crowd that included college students, old men and shy young
girls gathered outside the Faqma ice cream shop to indulge.

In the Iraq of the mid-1990s, such a scene would have been impossible. People
were penniless and the government strictly rationed milk and sugar to ensure
that the
country's embargoed food supplies covered necessities.

But those days are past. Step by step, economic and social life is rebounding
and the country is breaking out of limits imposed on it by the United States and
Western powers after the Persian Gulf War a decade ago.

Iraq is now sufficiently flush to independently launch an oil embargo, as it did
last month, suspending exports of crude as a protest against Israeli occupation
Palestinian cities in the West Bank. That won Iraq admiration in many Arab
countries, as have its payments of $25,000 that U.S. officials said have been
made to the
families of each Palestinian suicide bomber.

Many Iraqis and foreign diplomats here said the country's resurgence will make
the U.S. goal of unseating President Saddam Hussein all the more difficult to
And, in the meantime, the growing prosperity is allowing Hussein's political
apparatus to proclaim that Iraq was the ultimate victor in the Persian Gulf

"Many people predicted that Iraq would collapse in 1991, but we have
reconstructed our country," Oil Minister Amir Mohammad Rasheed said recently at
a news
conference in Baghdad. "We know it is difficult for those without thousands of
years of history to understand, but oil is not the only resource of the Iraqi

Oil, however, is what's driving the rebound. Iraq is allowed to sell as much
petroleum as it wants under U.N. sanctions to buy food, medicine and other
But money is also entering the country illegally through oil smuggling and a
complicated surcharge scheme that a Wall Street Journal analysis recently
provides around $2.5 billion annually outside the control of sanctions.

While U.S. officials contend that much of the money is being spent to refit the
Iraqi military, develop long-range missiles and possibly assemble nuclear,
biological or
chemical weapons, clearly some of it is improving the lives of Iraqi citizens.

Per capita income now stands at around $2,500 annually -- double that of Egypt,
according to the CIA World Factbook. Iraq's gross domestic product grew about
15 percent in the year 2000.

"Little by little, things are getting better. You can find everything," said
Sinan Abdul Hamid, 20, an engineering student whose chief complaint about life
is that the
lasers used in his classes are out of date.

Entrepreneurs are bringing shiploads of computers, televisions, stereos,
appliances and other goods from Dubai to stock the the shelves of Baghdad's
Wealthy Iraqis can arrange long-distance special deliveries of their favorite
foods from grocery stores in Amman, Jordan, 12 hours by car and a few bribes
from the Iraqi capital.

Farmers are buying new trucks; new double-decker buses are moving about the
capital. A few privately owned luxury cars are breaking the previous monotony of

wobbly taxis and private cars with shattered windshields.

Even such areas as an impoverished corner of Saddam City south of Baghdad are
feeling gains. There, vegetable seller Rabbia Jassim at first pointed to his
6-year-old son's dilapidated sneakers and said that for the poorest in Iraq,
many basics remain out of reach. But later he conceded there was some
His family can now afford an occasional chicken.

As part of the upturn, Iraq has again become a major force in the regional
economy. Much of its $13 billion in annual imports come from Turkey, Egypt,
Arabia, Syria and Jordan, Iraqi officials said, helping bolster economies in the
region. They added that Turkey's sales to Iraq doubled in the past year, to
nearly $1
billion, while Egypt, starved for hard currency, now gets $2 billion a year from
goods its sells to Iraq.

Iraqis are traveling abroad more easily, too, on the expanding network of
flights available since Saddam International Airport reopened a year ago. Royal
Airlines offers four flights a week between Amman and Baghdad, and service is
also available to the Syrian capital, Damascus, and to Moscow.

Iraqi diplomats circle the globe pressing their nation's case, while business
leaders from the Arab world, Russia and Europe fill Iraq's version of a
five-star hotel, the
Al Rasheed.

The future of Iraq and Hussein has been a chief preoccupation of the region, as
well as of world powers, for more than a decade now. While there is agreement
Iraq's isolation as a nation should end, there is disagreement over whether that
should happen while Hussein is still in power.

To Washington, he remains a global menace, intent on developing weapons of mass
destruction and likely to use them against Israel, Arab neighbors or even the
United States. At a recent U.N. Security Council briefing, U.S. officials
presented evidence of new long-range missile sites, and foreign diplomats in
Baghdad cite
suspicions that Iraqi officials have stepped up efforts to acquire material for
a nuclear device.

President Bush has called Iraq part of an "axis of evil" that includes its
neighbor Iran and North Korea. U.S. officials have not made a case linking Iraq
with al Qaeda
or any terrorist attack against U.S. interests. But they insist that Iraq is
developing weapons of mass destruction and say action against the country,
perhaps armed
action, is needed.

"The combination of a dangerous regime with such destructive weapons is not
acceptable," said Patrick Clawson, research director at the Washington Institute
Near East Policy.

Among Iraq's Arab neighbors, the view is less apocalyptic. Hussein is viewed as
a brutal leader, but many say he became more cautious after seeing his army
expelled from Kuwait in 1991. An international coalition might well retaliate
against any aggressive act tied to Baghdad, spelling an end to the Baath Party
controls the country.

One diplomat here, whose government has counseled the United States to avoid
military action in the absence of clear provocation, said the risks of toppling
might be as great as the risks of leaving him in power.

In society here, the diplomat said, "there is a big hate for the U.S. Every
malaise is attributed to them and not the regime. The complexity of the problem
is that once
Pandora's box is open, are we in a more difficult position than now?"

A U.S. attack could lead to a fracturing of the country among the
quasi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, the Iranian-influenced Shiite
populations in the
south, and the Sunni Muslims who dominate the central region, the diplomat said.

Some Iraqis who privately dislike the regime are also uneasy about the prospect
of an attack. They would rather wait for the 65-year-old Hussein's natural
than risk a war or revolution. "Borders are closed, brains are closed," said one
businessman, who asked not to be identified. "But it has been 20 years. What is
or four more? This is what is in the heart of Iraqis."

Advisers in the president's office, meanwhile, say the government's public
bravado -- defiant, anti-American and ready for a fight -- isn't the whole
story. "What are
we going to say if [Bush] says we are the axis of evil? We fought Iran for eight
years. How can you just throw us in one bottle?" one Iraqi official said. "We
learned lessons, and we will make use of those lessons. We will try to avoid our
people suffering again."

Despite the talk of war, the United States hasn't much changed the military
pressure that it has exerted against Iraq since the end of the Gulf War. Every
day a
panoply of U.S. planes, including high-flying U-2 reconnaissance jets and RC-135
eavesdropping aircraft, course the skies of northern Saudi Arabia and southern
Turkey, monitoring the Iraqi military. Warplanes stage periodic strikes against
antiaircraft positions.

But some diplomats in Baghdad and analysts in Washington say that Bush's war
threats may already be paying off with the rise of what amounts, by Iraqi
to a group of pragmatists on the Baath Party's ruling Revolutionary Command

The diplomats said they believe Foreign Minister Naji Sabri has developed an
influential voice in alliance with Hussein's younger son and possible successor,
Sabri is said to have pushed for recent efforts to mend fences with Kuwait and
Saudi Arabia. At a recent Arab League summit in Beirut, Iraq went further than
promising to respect Kuwait's sovereignty.

Iraq has also reopened talks with the United Nations on the possible return of
U.N. weapons inspection teams, who were withdrawn from the country in 1998 hours

before the United States and Britain launched airstrikes on Baghdad. The talks
now involve Iraqi scientists and generals. Before Sept. 11, Iraq maintained that

inspectors would never return.

Hussein remains the ultimate arbiter, however, holding on to power despite a
record of domestic mismanagement, political executions and atrocities against

Increasingly elaborate statues of Hussein continue to sprout throughout the
capital, as do state-financed mosques. The Mother of All Battles Mosque opened
recently. Still in progress is Saddam Mammoth Mosque, intended to be the largest
in the world. Along one boulevard stands what people call The Big "La," ("No" in

Arabic), a granite symbol of the country's defiance.

Hussein is lionized in party tracts as the rightful heir of history's great
Muslim leaders, such as the 12th-century warrior Saladin, who fought the
Christian Crusaders.
The revisionism has turned the invasion of Kuwait into a "Zionist trap" that
ended with U.S. troops encircled and begging for a cease-fire.

It is unclear how many people accept that account, doled out incessantly by
Iraqi newspapers and television. But the hardships of the last decade have been
and many ordinary Iraqis appear to view the recent easing as a triumph over the
United States.

In their offices in the capital, Iraqi officials tried to build on those
feelings. They said that what is really behind Bush's talk of war is Hussein's
refusal to follow the
recent path of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab states and submit to
what they perceive as U.S. dominance.

Bush "wants Iraqi oil. Saddam Hussein won't let him. He wants to put a stooge
government in. Saddam Hussein won't let him," said Abdelrazak Hashimi, a
semi-official government spokesman. "Nobody has the right to go into another
country and change the system of government. . . . Nobody can just scratch Iraq
their calendar."

                                              (C) 2002 The Washington Post

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