Al-Ahram Weekly
3 - 9 August 2000
Issue No. 493
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Down-loading death

By Salah Hemeid

Ask any Iraqi -- whether a supporter or detractor of Saddam Hussein -- about the legacy of the Gulf crisis triggered by the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and they respond unequivocally that it is a human tragedy. This dramatic, yet, profound, conclusion is difficult to argue with given that prior to the 1991 Gulf War Iraq was envied as one of the richest and most advanced countries in the Arab world.

A decade after the invasion of 2 August 1990, a state of unpredictability and confusion still prevails in Iraq. The main lesson drawn by Iraqis from the Gulf War along with subsequent attacks by the US and British forces and the devastating United Nations economic sanctions, is that they have been punished during the last ten years for a crime they did not commit.

When the United States formed and led the international alliance against Saddam Hussein, the reason it gave was to liberate Kuwait and to prevent the recurrence of such an aggression against America's friends in the region. Others noted US concern to protect oil resources, and most importantly, their unobstructed flow into Western markets. But 10 years later, it seems clear that the "liberation of Kuwait" and the subsequent sanctions were only a pretext to destroy Iraq.

Over the past 10 years, Iraqi officials, backed by UN figures, estimate that over 1.5 million Iraqis, half of them children, died due to malnutrition, medicine shortages and limited availability of proper medical treatment. The remainder of the population suffers malnutrition and diseases transmitted by impure water.

Meanwhile, Iraq, under the embargo, has experienced a massive shift from relative affluence to widespread poverty. Its economy is stagnant, the distribution of wealth has become increasingly skewed and the brain drain has become more acute. The cumulative impact of this devastation has destroyed the very fabric of Iraqi society. Reviewing this situation, it becomes evident that sanctions impacted on the people, but not the regime.

Added to the economic sanctions, Iraq has been subject to a stringent political and diplomatic embargo and to repeated military confrontations and threats. Since 1991, the United States has insisted on completely disarming Iraq. It has prevented attempts to break Iraq's isolation and continued to use its air force to impose two no-fly zones, one in the north and the other in the south. When it has bombed Iraq, numerous civilians have been killed.

This kind of punishment may have contained the regime's regional ambitions, as perceived by the United States, but it has also divested the population of any political resources. Counter to US intentions, these actions have promoted among Iraqis the sense of a persecuted nation which needs the unwavering loyalty of its citizens to survive.

Analysts who have been following the situation carefully have noted that the Iraq situation has developed to become primarily a conflict between Hussein's regime and the United States. While the first struggles for survival, the latter pursues a vague policy of containment which uses the sanctions, the no-fly zones and other means of pressure to try to cause the regime to collapse.

For a growing number of people worldwide, the United States, with regards to its involvement in Iraq, has degenerated into nothing more than Hussein's jailer and is increasingly seen as a bully beating up on a small nation. The failure to end this cat and mouse game can only continue to do enormous damage to the defenseless Iraqi people and foster instability in the region.

For its part, Hussein's regime, has been unwavering in its policies towards its own people, refusing entirely to change its rigid political system. Meanwhile, on the international level, the Iraqi regime's isolation has been mitigated slightly by the de facto recognition of countries like China, France and Russia which have adopted the view that the present government is "a fact of life" they have to deal with. Last week, for example, the Iraqi media highlighted the visit made by Deputy Prime Minister Tarek Aziz to Russia and the commitment Moscow made to increase its efforts to get the sanctions lifted.

The return to Iraq by former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter to film a documentary that supports Iraq's claims that it is free of nuclear and biological weapons, was also widely publicised by the official media.

Yet, the only gesture the regime made towards its people on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Kuwait was to open an Internet café in Baghdad, the first in Iraq. However, the problem with the café is not only most of Iraq's impoverished people will not have access to it, but that it is run by the government which has prevented the down-loading of many Web sites that it deems "immoral."

Related stories:
Death for oil- 13 - 19 July 2000

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