Why Saddam and Milosevic are immune to sanctions

IT WAS nine years ago today that Iraq invaded Kuwait. Ever since, the United States has been seeking to bring about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It seems that you can defeat him in battle, you can encourage rebellion, you can apply sanctions, you can dismantle his weapons systems, you can patrol no-fly zones, yet still Saddam rules over Iraq. How has he managed to survive? Could Slobodan Milosevic prove equally durable as the absolute master of Serbia?

The West has great difficulty in understanding the dynamics of dictatorship. Soon after the Gulf war had ended, in the spring of 1991, when Saddam faced brush fire revolts in the Shia Muslim lands of Southern Iraq and in the Kurdish provinces on the Northern border, analysts in the US State Department and in the CIA, in the British Foreign office and in MI6, were unanimous that the brutal dictator must fall.

What was it that these experts were overlooking?

An examination of the failed rebellions of 1991 shows that the Shia uprising was spontaneous, but that it had no leadership in the cities. Former army officers tried to provide direction but could not impose their will. Support from Iranian religious leaders was counter- productive. Nobody else in Iraq, whether Sunni Muslims, Kurds, Christians, secular Iraqis or anyone associated with the ruling Baathist party wanted the fundamentalism of the Iranian ayatollahs to take root. In any case the rebels were confident of American support - but none was forthcoming.

Such analysis, however, misses important features. This is where a new book, Out of the Ashes; the Resurrection of Saddam Hussein (by Patrick Cockburn, the Jerusalem correspondent of The Independent, and his brother Andrew) is extremely useful. It's been published in the US, but HarperCollins has no plans to release it in this country. Never mind, those readers with Internet access will have no difficulty in obtaining a copy.

Economic sanctions have had numerous perverse results. It is not just that ordinary Iraqis have blamed the US, rather then their rulers, for their economic ruin. This is a familiar pattern, well exemplified by a similar sentiment in Serbia; people there reserve their anger for the Nato allies rather than for their strong man, Milosevic. In the case of Iraq, the consequences have stretched much further.

The agonies of ill-health and malnutrition which Iraqis have undergone, with infant mortality rising sharply, have moved public opinion in neighbouring Arab states. While the Arab rulers still fear Saddam, their peoples are full of sympathy. As a result, the US can no longer attract support from the rest of the Gulf.

Moreover within Iraq, sanctions have actually helped Saddam maintain his power. The government had to introduce a system of rationing. It is equitable and, in the judgement of some experts, provides a strikingly efficient system of distribution. From Saddam's point of view it represents an additional system of state control.

The food shortages also have had the effect of reversing the movement of poor people from the countryside to the big cities. Nowadays some 40 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture, three times the number before the invasion of Kuwait.

Lacking vital pesticides, fertilisers, animal feed and spare parts for irrigation machinery, Iraqis have gone back to the farming methods of their forefathers. But this dispersal of city dwellers also reduces the likelihood of opposition movements gathering strength.

More seriously still, from the perspective of the proponents of the policy, sanctions have destroyed the middle classes. They have broken the people most likely to provide the nucleus of opposition movements. Sanctions started by extinguishing middle-class jobs, whether in commerce, in the professions or in state service. These positions depended, directly or indirectly, on Iraq's former oil wealth. Even if nominal salaries were maintained, purchasing power declined rapidly as severe inflation took hold. The middle classes started to sell - watches, carpets, furniture, gold, silverware, cameras, videos, cars - to obtain cash for food. Very soon the middle classes were not middle class any longer, except in education and old habits.

A further perverse result of the application of economic sanctions has been the strengthening of fundamentalism. This could have been foreseen, because the result of economic distress is often a resort to uncompromising faiths or extreme political creeds. Until the 1990s, Iraq had been a mainly secular society. But under pressure, Iraq's dispossessed salary- earners have increasingly taken refuge in religion. At the same time, young people have been growing up in a narrow, restrictive setting. They are likely to be relatively intolerant. They can certainly be stirred up to take to the streets. But the sentiments they express may not be what Western governments would like to hear.

Before reading Out of the Ashes I would have advocated the dismantling of sanctions, on the grounds that dictators need external threats if they are to unify their people behind them and that, when the pressure comes off, the autocrat may appear redundant. But Andrew and Patrick Cockburn give no support to this line of thinking. As they point out, Iraq's pre- war standard of living was good.

The possession of immense oil wealth, which Iraq would once again secure, strengthens authoritarian government. This is not just because the lucky tyrants can spend more on repression - as they do - but because oil wealth, when it is sizeable enough in relation to the population, allows the state to become independent of society. Such countries can provide all the excellent medical care, education, clean water and other amenities that are needed free of charge, without having to tax its citizens heavily or seek foreign subsidies.

The historic foundation of Western democracy, no taxation without representation, lacks resonance in such a setting.

Of course Saddam can make his own mistakes and fall from power. He has been the ruthless master of the violent politics of his country for 30 years. Peaceful retirement seems unlikely. But, however he goes, neither Western forces nor the machinations of Western agencies will have had much to do with it.

The West can interfere, but it cannot bring about a decisive result. It might as well go back to the status quo ante bellum.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried