Iraq Crisis: 'Sanctions are true weapons of mass

Washington: US Iraqis tell John Carlin war would disable the country but serve Saddam
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The Independent Online
SIX Iraqi-born Americans sat in a Washington cafe, sipping mint tea: two engineers, a financial broker, a private consultant, a medieval and renaissance scholar, and the cafe's owner. All had been in telephone contact with their families in Baghdad in recent days. Yasir, Anas, Ghida, Suhair, Haider and Raya were discussing their chosen country's plans to bomb the country where many of their relatives still live.

Ghida: The view of right-wing Republicans who oppose the bombing is "what's the point?" My view is that bombing is an uncivilised answer to an uncivilised man. Saddam is a barbarian and the US is supposed to be a notch above barbarism.

Haider: I'm against the bombing because, like the sanctions, like everything that's happened in the past seven years, it would seem the target is not Saddam. I can't see the logic of "We're not going to target him, we're going to hit the country, bomb it to pieces, but - but - we have no quarrel with the Iraqi people". Something is missing there. People talk a lot about the Iraqi people but, when it comes right down to it, they forget them.

Suhair: I was on the phone this morning to my parents in Baghdad. They're both over 60. They're scared to death. They're having a rough enough time without the bombs and now they have the terror of going to sleep at night and not waking up, because everybody knows the bombings happen at night. It'simpossible sitting here in America to understand how they manage with the food shortages, how every day is a crisis. God forbid someone should get sick. Things are terrible now. If they bomb, there'll be no electricity, no water, the sewage will back up.

Anas: My cousin died last year of food poisoning. She had to leave hospital because there were no beds and the next night she died at home. She was 18. What people here don't understand is that the anger is directed not at Saddam but at the US. They blame both, actually, but the US gets the brunt of it.

Yasir: People have no expectations of Saddam. They expect better of the US.

Raya: When people are battling every day to survive, when they are desperate to get their daily bread, they cannot have a clear vision of what is going on. It's easier for them to accept what they hear on radio and television and blame the superpower.

Anas: People feel a sense of betrayal when they think of the US. You have to think of the Iraqi people as suffering from a sort of collective battered-wife syndrome. They know no better than this. This is their fate and there is no way out. This is their reality. But when the external threat comes along it is something new, something outside their reality and their accustomed fate, so they turn their anger on the external threat.

Suhair: US double standards towards Israel also increase people's sense of bitterness and betrayal.

Yasir: You see a pattern in Saddam's behaviour. He strikes when things are going badly in the Arab-Israeli peace effort, when US credibility is questioned in the Arab world.

Haider: When I look at all these think tanks, all these advisers, all these people in the Clinton administration who work on the foreign-policy team, I do not see anyone from the Arab world. Not one. Then when the top three people - Cohen, Albright and Berger - appear on CNN and talk to the world about Iraq, it turns out that all three are Jews. Don't get me wrong. I am not prejudiced. But how does it look to Arab people?

Ghida: It's tough when you are an American citizen who loves America - so much more welcoming to foreigners than England, where I lived for 25 years. I suppose you must separate the American people from US foreign policy. But how can I tell my children that the architects of this country's foreign policy are more civilised and enlightened than Saddam Hussein when babies and children are dying because of the policy?

Anas: The sanctions are the true weapons of mass destruction. Imagine a weapon that selectively kills babies, the old, the sick and the helpless. That weapon is sanctions.

Ghida: In some ways sanctions are more evil than bombing because of the long, drip-torture effect.

Suhair: Some say they would rather be killed by a bomb than die slowly with sanctions.

Anas: But now with the bombing the consequences will be a breakdown of the infrastructure and massive casualties. Saddam will be fine when the war is over. He stood up to the West.

Yasir: I dread it. A sense of helplessness and despair overcomes me because it's sort of deja vu. The Gulf war was a disaster for Iraqis and I see a similar outcome if the US strikes again. The country will be disabled, society as whole will be destroyed.

Suhair: Apart from the devastation, you'll have the refugees. But Saddam will survive, unless he's very unlucky. He'll be a lot stronger politically, especially in the Arab world, where we love a hero, a strongman.