Unlike all the countries of the Arab
World, Iraq enjoys a unique situation: it has the three main ingredients
that can transform any country into a paradise. It has water, money, and
manpower, and plenty of all three. That makes Iraq's potential unmatched
in the Arab World. If we take Egypt, for instance, it has manpower; it
has water, with a caveat, however, since the water is unevenly distributed;
but it does not have money. If we look at Saudi Arabia, it (still) has
money and practically nothing else.
Having all three elements is necessary
for "making it": (1) the water from the two great rivers, the Tigris and
Euphrates, in addition to hundreds of canals dug between the two rivers
and beyond as well other smaller rivers; (2) the manpower since it has
a population of 20 million with high level of education; and finally (3)
the money in the billions from its oil resources. Having all this, Iraq
can be a regional power, and more importantly, it can have an independent
political will and an independent foreign policy.
Iraqi Dinar, Prices, Salaries...
Independent political will, however,
is unacceptable to the West and especially to the U.S. I am not blaming
the West, for it is looking after its own interests. It is up to the Arab
countries to look after their own interests. One does not need to be a
genius to figure out what the U.S. interests are: to be able to dominate
the area because of its strategic importance; oil supplies must be secured
at the cheapest price possible; and the money spent on buying oil must
be recovered by whatever means, selling weapons for instance. To achieve
that, we see an Arab head of state like Saddam Hussein being cultivated
and maintained in power. The same is true for the rest of the Arab leaders.
After the Iran-Iraq war was over (1988),
the devaluation of the Dinar started. The rate of exchange used to be ID
(Iraqi Dinar) 1 = $3.3. Just before the Gulf War (Jan 91) the rate was
ID 1 = $1. In July 91: $1 = ID 6; Jan 94: $1 = 60; Mar 94: $1 = 150; Jan
95: $1 = 900. When I arrived in May 95 the rate was $1 = 1,100. When I
left in Nov. 95, it was $1 = 2,600. It seem that the trend will continue.
There is, however, an official rate of exchange which has not changed for
a long time, it is $1 = ID 600.
By the end of 92 beginning 93, Iraq
shifted from the Swiss Dinars (that is, Dinars printed in Switzerland)
to the Iraqi Dinars (printed locally). The Swiss Dinars are now exclusively
used in the Kurdish areas in the North. The value of the Swiss and the
Iraqi Dinars are not the same. The last time I've been in the North, in
July 95, 1 Swiss Dinar equaled around 35 Iraqi Dinars.
Because of the low value of the dinar
in relation to the dollar, those who trade with large amount of money can't
spend hours counting the dinars, instated they use the scale. They weigh
the dinars instead of counting them.
Another interesting thing. If the value
of the dollar, let's say, is ID 1,000 they will give you a little bit more
if you accept 25 dinars bills instead of 250 dinars bills which is
the largest. Some people would sell their 250 bills for 25 bills to make
When liquidity was high because of money
printing, fictitious investment companies were set up. They offered 75%
interest on the capital. People rushed to deposit their money; then the
government closed them down. There are people who lost their fortunes in
these deals because some of them sold their properties in order to invest
in these fictitious companies, that the government created to siphon the
In August 95, one egg costed ID 150;
1 liter of Gas 200 fils (1 Dinar = 1000 fils) (the cheapest things in Iraq
are gas and electricity); 1 kg of meat over 3,000, of sugar 1,300; of rice
1,200; of flour 900; one loaf 35 to 90; cooking oil 2,800 the liter.
Life is getting more and more difficult
every day, with the devaluation of the dinar which causes the increase
of prices of every commodity. The trend now is not to leave any savings
in dinars. People exchange their earnings in dollars to maintain the purchasing
power of their earnings, which creates a heavy demand on the dollar which
in turn drives down the value of the dinar.
Traffic, Roads, Cars, Buildings...
The average salary in Iraq right now is ID 5,000. Pensions are laughable.
One told me that his pension consists of ID 500 every three months. One
day I was waiting for a taxi, a private car stopped for me. The owner was
using it as a taxi. The government knows that but turns a blind eye. He
told me that his pension was ID 300 a month.
The road network around Baghdad is very
elaborate. It is said that it was built during the 70s with the help of
the Germans; interchanges, overpasses, underpasses give you the impression
that you are not in a developing country.
Traffic signs are clear and well done;
they seem to have adopted the French system: blue signs for expressways
with controlled access, green signs for major highways, and white signs
for local traffic.
Traffic inside cities is, however, worse
than in any other country. Not only do drivers ignore any traffic rules
such as turn signals or driving within lanes, something pretty common in
the Middle East, but they also do not respect red lights, something that
I have never seen in any other country. I was told that such a breakdown
in law and order occurred after the Gulf War. One would have expected more
traffic accidents than what it actually happens.
Baghdad is built horizontally. Most
Iraqis live in houses like in the U.S. Apartment buildings do not exceed
three, maximum four stories. That's why the area of Baghdad, by Middle
East standards, is huge 20x20 miles. A car is practically a must. Taxis
however are plentiful but without meters which means you have to bargain
every time before you get on. The average trip will cost between ID 300
and 500. Tall buildings, however, can be found in the Karkh area, which
is the new part of Baghdad.
No maps are available. An old tourist
map dating from the eighties for the city of Baghdad and its outskirts
published in Britain was given to the UN people. Detailed maps for Iraq
were provide by U.S. government.
The most popular car in Iraq is Volkswagen
Passat, called Brazili (Brazilian). The reason is Brazil conditioned its
sales of weaponry to Iraq on a deal of Passat cars assembled in Brazil.
This is how Passat came to be known in Iraq as Brazili.
Check points are numerous inside the
city, and they are found without exception on all roads just before exiting
or entering any city. While UN cars are not even stopped, Iraqi cars have
to stop and IDs are checked. I noticed that the check points are stricter
at the entrance of Karbala, a Shiite holy city.
I don't think I've seen so many flat
tires in my life as I have seen in Baghdad. The main reason for this phenomenon
is the price of the new tire which is ID 100,000. Car owners will delay
buying a new tires as long as they can.
Living conditions are difficult. The
cost of living is very high in comparison with the wages or pensions. Surprisingly,
water in some neighborhood is rationed, purification process is not effective
people boil the water before drinking it.
People are more or less resigned to
their fate. Because of lack of freedom there are no competitions, no initiatives.
Iraqis seem to live day by day, struggling to make ends meet, taking more
than one job to be able to feed their children.
Children sits all-day long behind makeshift
tables selling cigarettes; or you find them begging at intersections. Begging
is a totally new phenomenon that was never seen before in Iraq.
The middle class is disappearing if
it has not already disappeared. What is left are the very rich and the
very poor and a lower middle class
From rows and rows of villas one can
tell that Iraqis, generally speaking, were living a comfortable life. Presently,
however, child labor is a problem in Iraq. As far as international labor
laws are concerned, this is of course unacceptable. When this is pointed
out to the Iraqis, the answer invariably is that the children are helping
their parents. Obviously the economic pressure is forcing children to go
to work at an early age
People are so discouraged that they are losing any hope that any improvement
will ever occur anytime soon. Anyone who is able to leave the country legally
or illegally is doing so. A wave of emigration is reaching unprecedented
levels even though it costs a lot to just have a passport issued. Every
passport costs ID 200,000 and the rate will probably go up soon following
the dollar. I know of families that had to pay close to one million Iraqi
dinars to have a passport issued for each family member. Many Iraqis have
to sell their furniture, their car, their jewelery to raise such kind of
money. They willingly do it if they do not intend to return. The main destinations
for the Iraqis who are emigrating are New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
People's properties are losing value with the devaluation of the Dinar
because there are limits to the increase to which an item can reach. For
instance, I was told by an Iraqi that he bought some ten years ago when
the Iraqi Dinar was equivalent to $3.3 a refrigerator which cost him $800,
the equivalent was ID 242. Today, those $800 equal ID 2 million. Nobody
is willing to pay that kind of money for a refrigerator.
Crimes, prostitution, armed robberies, even by policemen are on the increase.
It is not surprising to hear in the middle of the night sounds of gunfire.
Tires can be stolen from parked cars. Gas cylinders can be stolen from
the house if they are left in the backyard. Shops are broken into and money
is stolen from the cashiers. While the regime's main concern is to survive
and remain in power the people are left defenseless against the criminals.
What is terrible after five years of sanctions is that people adjust to
them. After a while a point is reached that life with sanctions seems to
be natural. Children who were five when the sanctions were imposed
are now ten years old. If the sanctions are maintained, those children
who grew up under the sanctions and who have seen nothing else but sanctions
will see this as the natural way of life. The abnormal situation is being
normalized. A change in the fabrics of Iraqi society is taking place in
front of our own eyes. This can have terrible consequences for the country.
To reverse the situation will be very difficult and will take a long time.
A crime is being perpetrate against a whole people just to keep the sanctions
going. The criminal in this instance is of course Saddam Hussein who is
totally ignoring the plight of his people. He is not, however, the only
one. Those who are imposing the sanctions share the responsibility. Because
while the declared objective of the sanctions might very well be directed
at a tyrant they essentially hit his victims. Saddam Hussein is not suffering
from the sanctions, he is still constructing palaces. The people of Iraq
are the victims.
If the Arab world is penetrated, in the sense that intelligence gathering
in these states is done covertly, in the case of Iraq this activity is
done overtly under the pretext of monitoring. In a sense, intelligence
activity in Iraq has been legalized and legitimized. The UN is undertaking
a meticulous inventory of all what Iraq had (because Iraqis have destroyed
a lot of their equipment just before UNSCOM was started working), has or
will have (like all the new contracts for armaments being concluded through
Jordanian middle men). Every piece of equipment that can be suspected to
have dual use is immediately inventoried and if necessary tagged. Even
equipment used in university laboratories are subject to such treatment.
Also, cameras are installed and more
are being installed all the time at all sensitive sites, factories, plants
to monitor on a continuous basis every movement or activity. These cameras
are connected to video tape recorders. Monitoring teams go regularly to
those sites to replace the tapes and bring the used ones to the Center
to be viewed.
Inspectors are doing their job as meticulously as possible. They don't
concern themselves with the full picture. They probably don't know that
there is a full picture. They don't know that there is an overall policy
and that they are the instruments of this policy. In short, they don't
ask themselves in what way what they are doing fits with the overall policy
and what this policy is.
In his article in the New York Times of September 17, 1995, Thomas
Friedman argues that all Saddam's neighbors want him to remain in power.
Syria because a new regime in Iraq will probably be accommodating to the
West and the U.S. which will isolate Syria and put the country under more
pressure. Egypt because Iraq can be a real competitor for Egyptian primacy
in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf countries in general) because
Iraq will start selling oil which will cut into their quotas. Iran because
a new regime will leave Iran as the only "pariah" state in the neighborhood.
Not surprisingly, Friedman remained silent about the U.S. intentions. Without
Saddam, it would have been difficult to impose the embargo, the no-fly
zones, the sanctions that compel Iraq to destroy its own military capabilities
and reveal the secrets of its chemical and biological warfare programs.
Without Saddam, the Gulf rulers would not have to listen to American advice
in their oil policies and arms purchases. Without Saddam, the U.S. would
not have any justification to be militarily present in the Gulf area.
In early 1990, the U.S. had 450 military personnel assigned to the Gulf
area. Today, some 20,000 men and women, nearly 200 warplanes and more than
20 warships are present in the area. On board of those ships some 100 Tomahawk
missiles. Without Saddam, how can the US convince the Gulf states to purchase
American arms. Saudi Arabia alone bought $24.7 billion in US weaponry from
1991 to 1993. Thousands of American defense industry jobs now depend on
these countries receiving sufficient oil revenues to pay for their purchases.
In fact, there are now U.S. weaponry systems that are being made solely
for export, including F-15E fighter-bombers, M1A2 Abrams battle tanks,
AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and the Patriot air defense missile. In
light of the above, does the US really want to get rid of Saddam? (Figures
taken from Carl Murphy's article which appeared in the Washington Post
of July 30, 1995)
The U.S. has been controlling Saudi
oil since the 1930s. Iraq has the second largest oil reserve in the world.
If somehow it can succeed in controlling Iraqi oil too, it will have succeeded
in controlling two major sources of oil in the world.
Average Iraqis ask me when will the sanctions be lifted. My answer invariably
is as follows: it will be lifted when there will be a change in the elements
of the equation. Take for instance the no-war no-peace situation that used
to prevail in the Middle East after the 1967 war. It was only when the
1973 war changed the elements of the equation between Egypt and Israel
that some kind of movement became possible. Take also the occupation of
the West Bank and Gaza. There was a status quo between 1967 and 1987. Israel
was happy with the situation. The settlements flourished while there was
a total apathy on the part of the Palestinians. The intifada changed the
elements of the equation and made the peace process possible. The same
is true with Iraq. Sanctions will be renewed indefinitely as long as there
is no change in the elements of the equation.
The United States keeps saying that
it has no quarrel with the Iraqi people but with Saddam. The purpose of
the embargo is to punish Saddam. The fallacy of this position becomes clear
when you see that it is the Iraqi people that is punished not Saddam. Both
the gulf war and the sanctions are immoral because they sacrificed a civilian
population for economic interests. Iraqis are caught between an immoral
dictator and an immoral superpower ready to sacrifice a whole population
Is UNSCOM an independent UN
organ? The US media answered this question.
U.N. Weapon Inspectors Gave Briefings
on Iraq, Wall Street Journal, Februay 11, 1998
Israel Gave Key Help To U.N. Team
in Iraq, Washington Post, September 29, 1998
from the CNN progam Crossfire, aired November 12, 1998
by Jamie McIntyre, CNN Military Affairs Correspondent, aired November 13,
Jordan is considered to be the lung
with which Iraq breathes. Every conceivable commodity is available in Baghdad
through Jordan. One can observe long trucks with trailers on Baghdad expressways.
No shortages can be observed in the country. Jordan is taking advantage
of the situation
The traffic between Iraq and Jordan
is considerable since this is the only way for anyone Iraqi or non-Iraqi
to get in or out of the country. Busses, taxis, private cars do the journey,
a distance of 650 km in Iraq and 350 km in Jordan, that takes some 15 hours
instead of the 10 hours because of the checkpoints.
Travelers at the border between Iraq
and Jordan are searched meticulously by border police. Birth certificates,
school or college diplomas and any other documents of that nature if found
are immediately confiscated. Every Iraqi leaving the country is allowed
to take with him $50. Anything that is found on him that exceeds this amount
is also confiscated. I know of a family that had some $500 dollars confiscated
at the border.
Christianity in Iraq
Traveling to the border by car or taxi
is an ordeal. Not so much because of the distance. The road from Baghdad
to the Jordanian border is an excellent expressway. The problem is with
the check points. There are scores of them and at every check point travelers
have to give away all kind of goods to be able to continue their journey.
A lady traveling by taxi on its way to Baghdad was explicitly asked to
give away half of what she was transporting in the trunk.
In spite of the Muslim religious programs
shown on TV or broadcast on the radio, a new phenomenon in Iraq after the
Gulf War, Christians in Iraq are very much free to worship, to organize
and to have their own activities without interference. No perceptible discrimination
against Christians can be noticed in Iraq. There are Christians in high
office in the government and in the party. Lately, a Christian was appointed
Minister of Housing and Reconstruction. Tarek Aziz himself is Christian.
Iraqi Christians used to be concentrated
in the north around the area of Mosul. Because of the intra-fighting between
the Kurds and retaliation by each faction on the Christian population for
being accused to help the other side, the Christians fled the north and
came to Baghdad.
Let us take the Chaldeans, since they
constitute the majority of Christians in Iraq. They used to have 5 or 6
parishes in Baghdad. The pastor of one the parishes told me that they are
now about 30 parishes because of the exodus from the north.
While the number of Christians in Baghdad
has increased, it doesn't mean however that the overall number of Iraqi
Christians is also increasing. On the contrary, there is another Christian
exodus from Iraq altogether.
How people are coping with this situation?
I put this question to the pastor of a Chaldean parish. He told me that
people cannot survive without help from outside Iraq. As far as the Christians
are concerned, there is a large Chaldean community in the Detroit metropolitan
area. They regularly send money to their relatives in Iraq. One hundred
dollar bill can make a difference. The other solution is emigration. Christian
presence in Iraq, one of the oldest in church history, is threatened if
the economic crisis accompanied by the embargo continues.
The same pastor of the Chaldean church
who had just returned from a summer visit to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan
told me that Christian Iraqi communities started to form in these countries.
Many of those who went to Turkey fled the country by crossing the border
through the northern Kurdish town of Zakho without any identification papers.
They live a miserable life there. Those who went to Jordan encounter also
many difficulties. Only those who went to Lebanon were able to manage thanks
to the help provided by the Christian Lebanese communities. The number
of Iraqi Christians in each community is about 5 to 6 thousands in each
Out of a 20 million Iraqis, Christians
constitute less than a million. The largest community is the Chaldean,
which counts about 600,000. The smallest is the Greek Catholic with only
some 30 families. The Greek Orthodox are about 400 families. Armenians
are about 20,000.