Saddam's Survival in the
from World Press Review,
The Americans are bombing Iraqi positions?
On the outskirts of Baghdad, children are dying of malnutrition?
Iraq's hospitals lack medicines? In Latakia, a fine restaurant
where the city's upper crust dines, there is no sign of any of
this, for the clientele of this place in the fine suburb of Jadiriya
are members of the small class of Iraqis who lack nothing- except
These owners of luxury limousines are
war profiteers and courtiers around Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The sanctions introduced to punish Saddam for invading neighboring
Kuwait in August, 1990, do not trouble the people in Latakia.
Nor do the bombs still being dropped by the American planes that
Washington hopes will shake the dictator's hold on power. So the
regime's favorites celebrate as if Saddam Hussein had not driven
his nation into poverty. They eat as people used to, when Iraq,
with its enormous oil reserves, was the economic miracle of the
Until recently, enjoying such wealth was
frowned upon in Baghdad. Those who had profited from , the war
preferred to ~ indulge in luxury out R of the public eye. But
now they flaunt the money they make by cigarette smuggling, illegal
oil trading, and black-market dealing in food and medicine. These
people seem to fear that every party could be their last-that
they are dancing atop a volcano-because tomorrow the anger of
the wretched people of Iraq could sweep Saddam and his supporters
Except for jokes about Saddam, the new
rich can dare anything. They have made their money in rampant
real estate speculation or in dubious businesses dealing televisions,
computers, and cameras. The days when the police would arrest
profiteers to keep them in line-or even shoot some on the spot-are
long past. The government has accepted that the social gap has
widened. "Two decades of war, deprivation, and the indifference
of the rest of the world have destroyed the social fabric,"
says a government official. "Now everyone thinks of himself."
The collapse of the currency has worsened
the disaster. The average monthly salary of a mid-level government
employee-three quarters of all those working work for the government-is
4,000 dinar, or $3.30. Even a short cab ride costs 300 dinar,
and a grilled chicken costs 5,000 dinar, or what a teacher makes
in a month.
The education system is at the edge of
ruin. There are not enough books or supplies. Child labor, formerly
not allowed in Iraq, is now the order of the day. Kids sell snacks,
shine shoes, scrub sidewalks, wash cars, or simply beg.
For a tiny sum, every Iraqi receives supplies
of sugar, tea, flour, meat, oil, soap, and detergent, but the
monthly amounts barely cover two weeks. And how long Baghdad will
be able to provide even this, given its apparently empty treasury,
is not clear.
Iraq can now harvest just 30 percent to
40 percent of what it needs from its farms, partly because of
the worst drought in memory. In spite of the United Nations' "Oil
for Food" program, humanitarian aid provides just $175 per
capita per year. According to official Iraqi statistics, since
the embargo began in 199(), more than I million Iraqis have died
Heads of families that own a car often
try to make it as taxi drivers. Gasoline is comparatively cheap:
One dollar buys about 13 gallons, but this is what a civil servant
would work 1() days to earn. The cars are rickety, for spare parts
are not available. Even basic engine components are classified
as having military use, so their import is banned by the UN. The
embargo also limits the numbers of replacement parts for turbines
that can be bought, so electricity generation is rationed. The
current is cut off twice a day-for three hours each-in Baghdad
and other cities.
The national health service, once splendid,
now exists only on paper. The doctors at the hospitals, often
the products of the world's finest medical schools, continue to
provide good diagnoses, but patients have to bring their own drugs,
and medicine is usually available only on the black market, for
dollars. As a result, child mortality is especially high.
In order to survive, people are leaving
Baghdad. It is easier to find food and housing in the countryside.
While threshers and tractors stand idle because spare parts are
difficult to find, farmers using sickles and scythes are still
able to harvest enough wheat, barley, and potatoes to earn a small
Iraqis have long believed that the West
has condemned them to their fate. Saddam Hussein's propaganda
machine has told them that the American-led embargo is the source
of all their misery. More recently, Iraqis are becoming disappointed
in their Arab brother nations. Aid from neighboring countries
has diminished, complains the head of the Red Crescent in Kerbela,
a city in the south. "Neither our fellow Shiites in Iran
nor our fellow Arabs in Saudi Arabia or the Emirates show any
sympathy," the official says.
Kerbela is the center of Shiite opposition
to the Sunni Saddam, so the south has suffered more under his
repression than other parts of the country. In February, opposition
Ayatollah Mohamad Sadiq al-Sadr was assassinated, a killing apparently
allowed by those around Saddam. That set off the worst unrest
in years, and the region threatened to get out of Baghdad's control.
But even in Kerbela no one dares speak
publicly against the president. ~ he dictator, with his army of
spies and agents, has the country well in hand. On April 2X, the
man who has thwarted two American presidents celebrated his 62nd
birthday. Saddam was feted by parades and ceremonies through
out Iraq. For the biggest party, held
in his native village of Audsha near Takrit, the president brought
in 5,00() foreign guests, among them Arab and Eastern European
politicians and intellectuals, but also 150 Russian athletes and
two Armenian football teams. A huge portrait depicted the leader
as a modern-day Nebuchadnezzar, mounted on a chariot and shooting
down American jets with his bows and arrows.
Both the bombing and the embargo, contrary
to Western expectations, have strengthened, rather than weakened,
the despot. The permanent state of war is his basis of power,
and he has turned the suffering of his people into patriotic pride.
"Saddam is showing everybody what an Iraqi can do,"
enthuses a customs officer, Amr Amir, at the Kuwaiti border.
Diplomats in Baghdad see the crass behavior
of the war profiteers as the "social explosive" that
could destroy the regime. The poor are bitter. "l could no
longer watch while these new-rich used the millions they earned
with the help of Satan to humiliate us," complains carpenter
Ghassan Juman, who is leaving Baghdad. But Juman still harbors
the naive hope that Saddam Hussein will "clean out that bunch."
Dieter Bednarz and Volkhard Windfahr,
"Der Spiegel" (liberal newsmagazine), Hamburg, May 24,