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Suffering Iraqis put invasion of Kuwait quietly behind them



Baghdad - A bronze statue of the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, greets visitors to the Saddam tower, a 666ft edifice that is a reminder not only of who is in charge, but also of a war that many Iraqis would like to forget.

At the foot of the statue are fragments of the "smart" laser-guided bombs dropped by Allied planes in the Gulf war to demolish a skyscraper and communications centre that originally occupied the site.

Today it is a source of pride to Iraqis that hardly a trace remains in Baghdad of the huge damage inflicted on the city by Allied air and missile attacks during the United States-led campaign to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait. But otherwise most Iraqis, their lives made desperately hard by UN sanctions, have little to brag about - certainly not the invasion of Iraq's oil-rich neighbour to the south five years ago this week.

Even the official press, which on previous anniversaries paid tribute to the events of 2 August - termed Yaum al-Nida (the day of the calling) - has been silent this year. "For me it is something of the past. I have already turned my back on it," said a university professor. "We want to know what will happen tomorrow."

Iraqis realise they have paid dearly for their capture of Kuwait and turning it into what was called Iraq's 19th province. UN sanctions have caused economic havoc, driving prices to levels beyond the reach of most of the population. At traffic junctions in Baghdad, emaciated mothers with children trailing behind knock at car windows asking for money.

Although several overtures to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia this year have gone unheeded, Baghdad has not given up hope. It has encouraged contacts with Qatar and Oman, two of the Gulf states that joined the US and its allies in pushing Iraq out of Kuwait.

Allied fears were raised again last October when Baghdad massed troops close to Kuwait's borders in what looked for a few days like a replay of August 1990. But, following a quick response from the US and its allies, Iraq backed down and instead began a charm offensive. It formally recognised Kuwait as an independent state and stopped calling the country a part of Iraq in school textbooks.

"I think the Iraqis would welcome a Kuwaiti delegation in Baghdad now. The thing is, when will the Kuwaitis be willing to take such a step?" asked a Western diplomat.

"If they wait until the regime here goes, I believe they will have to wait for a very, very long time."