Let the Americans go to hell, we’re off to Mosul

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By Paul Eedle

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Boy wearing Saddam T-shirt outside Mosul Hotel. Sanctions make many Iraqis feel more like the British during the Blitz than hostile to Saddam.

Iraq's elite parties despite UN sanctions.

You can see exactly why UN sanctions are failing to put much pressure on the Iraqi government if you go to Mosul, the city in Iraq's lush, green north where anyone who's anyone goes for a spring holiday.

I went during the Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice which marks the climax of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and is the biggest celebration in the Muslim year. Mosul's three best hotels were all packed with holidaying families happily paying 6,000 dinars per person per night for a bed - that's only $4.60 because the dinar has collapsed against the dollar, but it's what an office worker earns in a month.

These people are Iraq's political and business elite. Who else gives their kid a Saddam Hussein T-shirt for the Eid? They're able to ride out the sanctions in their air-conditioned Mercedes saloons because they've got connections. They earn high salaries (I know a journalist who used to make 50,000 dinars a month at Uday Hussein's weekly newspapers) or they've got the inside track on sanctions-busting business deals.
 
The elite is not untouched by sanctions. Nobody can be. Your child's asthma drug might be available on the black market for a price, but you've still got to track it down. You might have a good job, but there's a whole web of family and friends who are relying on you to push money their way by giving them minor jobs in your organisation, getting their sons into the army, or lobbying for their company to get a contract.

But if you're one of these people, do the sanctions make you feel that President Saddam Hussein ought to roll over and give UN weapons inspectors the entire files of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programme? No way. These people feel like Britain in the Blitz - we might stand alone against the most mighty nation on earth, but we're not defeated. (Anyone who wonders how Saddam Hussein has managed to present the 1991 Gulf War as the Mother of Victories should look at how Britain turned the rout of Dunkirk into a heroic legend.) Let the Americans go to hell, we're off to Mosul for four days of
fun and food.

Mosul's a rich city and ordinary families also managed to celebrate the Eid. The shrine of the Prophet Jonah, Mosul's top Muslim holy place, was jam packed on Friday with families queuing up to touch the Prophet's tomb, pray, and buy their children an ice cream.

An hour's drive northeast of the city, Syrian Orthodox Christians from Mosul visited the fourth-century monastery of Saint Matthew, which hangs on the side of a cliff with a
breathtaking view across miles of rolling green landscape - the Eid is a four-day public holiday, so everyone is off work and non-Muslims join in the celebrations.

The slopes below the monastery were dotted with families picnicking. These were not the rich - families had packed themselves into battered orange and white taxis, borrowed minibuses and even the cabs of haulage trucks to get out into the countryside.

The people who are really hurting from sanctions are, no surprise, the poor and powerless - precisely the people with the least conceivable influence over Saddam Hussein's policies. In the centre of Mosul on Thursday evening I met a primary school teacher whose salary is just 4,000 dinars ($3.00) a month. He spends every afternoon and evening selling sweets on the pavement to earn another 750 to 1,000 dinars in order to be able to feed his four children.

Families have sold almost everything they own in order to buy food. One man I met recently said he'd sold all the jewellery and glassware he'd bought his wife when they got married and most of their electrical appliances.

"I've sold everything except the bedroom furniture - because the children have scribbled all over it and it's covered in fingermarks. You open the door of the wardrobe and it comes off in your hand," he said. "I used to have two heaters - one electric and one oil. I sold them both and bought one that's powered by a candle in order to keep the children warm in the winter. Everything's available in Iraq - meat, vegetables, electrical appliances, clothes - but it's hard to afford any of it."

You can argue that starving and beggaring innocent people to put pressure on their government is simply immoral. But even if you think sanctions are morally ok, how do you think they're actually going to have any effect on Saddam Hussein's government? To the poor, the sanctions are an eight-year-old disaster, but for the rich and powerful, sanctions are just an irritation.

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