Broken Spirits

Isolated and impoverished, Iraqis must endure Saddam and the U.S. missile attack designed to unnerve him

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Another lawyer, seated beneath a towering portrait of Saddam Hussein framed in gold Christmas-tree tinsel, makes a veiled appeal for a more decisive solution: "The U.S. government knows the right way. They know where everyone is. They know everything. I can't believe they don't know how to do it." A middle-aged working-class veteran of the wars with Iran and Kuwait, fearful enough to ask that neither his name nor occupation be revealed, claims that 70% of all Iraqis wish the Americans would kill Saddam or at least "take Saddam and his Republican Guard to the U.S. and leave us in peace."

The Iraqi President's entourage, composed mostly of family members, remains loyal. "They know very well that if anything happens to him they will all be murdered," says a diplomat. And Saddam's regime remains still very much in control. Despite the damage wreaked by Tomahawk missiles on Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters, at least half a dozen intelligence services remain active. Nor is it certain that the agency targeted was the most important of these. Saddam's half brother, Sabawi Hassan Hussein, heads the powerful Directorate of General Security. And another half brother, Watban Ibrahim al- Hassan, is the Interior Minister.

The mood in Baghdad is one of despair and humiliation. "I am hungry, he is hungry, all the people in Iraq are hungry," says Abbas, a vendor in Baghdad's Arabi Street market, where Iraqi-made plastic sandals, shampoo and deodorant are almost the only goods to be found. "We want to eat. We don't care about politics." An Iraqi journalist says the U.S. was mistaken if it thought the Iraqi people could be driven to overthrow their government. "The policy has backfired. People's only concern now is to feed their children. The game played by the West has served the regime, because when you starve people they don't think about anything else."

Economic sanctions, even more than the missile attacks, have trained Iraqis' anger on the U.S. and the U.N. "The U.S. said it wanted to defend Saudi Arabia," says the white-haired lawyer. "Fine. The U.S. expelled Iraq from Kuwait. Fine. But starving 18 million Iraqis is too much." Negotiations on the export of Iraqi oil are scheduled to resume July 7. The Iraqi government has until now rejected U.N. resolutions that would enable it to sell $1.6 billion worth of oil abroad; more than two-thirds of the proceeds would go to war reparations to Kuwait and for U.N. expenses in Iraq. Officials argue that the remaining few hundred million dollars would scarcely alleviate food shortages. The Health Ministry claims that it needs $3 billion a year for medical imports alone.

Physical isolation also weighs heavily on Iraqis. Hostile neighbors -- Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- surround them. Even once friendly Jordan has distanced itself from Saddam since the Gulf War. International flights are banned under the sanctions, and the 621-mile trek across the burning desert to Amman is the only way out of the country. A recently imposed exit tax of 15,000 dinars (more than $200 at black-market rates) a person, nearly 20 times the average monthly salary, has made travel virtually impossible for most Iraqis.

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