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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Business as usual in Iraq

Despite the US threat, life continues as normal in Iraq

By Kim Ghattas
in Iraq
Despite the growing US calls for a regime change in Iraq and a military strike possibly looming on the horizon, life in Iraq seems to be continuing as usual.
No-one is stocking up on food and there is no visible out-of-the-ordinary military activity. For the past 12 years, Iraqis have learned to live with the threat of a major US strike.

'When they are not praising their president, Iraqis are reluctant to give their names'
In northern and southern Iraq, where US and British planes enforce a no-fly zone, Iraqis also got used to the occasional air strike in which the exchange of fire between planes and Iraqi anti-aircraft guns sometimes results in the death of civilians.
Still, Iraqis are afraid. "We are very afraid, we don't know what is going to happen," said one vendor in the Shiite town of Najaf, south of Baghdad. "Everything is bad, the economic situation is terrible, we're not selling anything."
When they are not praising their president, Iraqis are often reluctant to give their names.
Threat dismissed
In Baghdad, Iraqis also voice their concerns about the future and fears that chaos is going to come to their country again.
But they seem to accept the uncertainty with some kind of fatalistic resignation. Iraqi officials dismiss the US threats insisting that all plans to topple the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein will fail.

When the people support their president no one can do anything about it, not even the United States
Abdel Razzak el Hashim
Baath party
Abdel Razzak el Hashimi, leading member of the Baath party and adviser to the Iraqi president, said that while the US tried to portray Iraq as a threat to the region, the trade agreements Iraq is signing with one Arab country after the other, were proof to the contrary.
During the Arab League summit in Beirut in March, Iraq secured Arab support against a US strike in exchange for recognition of Kuwait's sovereignty.
Arab solidarity however has always been more about show than concrete action.
Unknown support
"The US should learn from its recent experience in Venezuela, when they had some of their stooges trying to overthrow [President Hugo] Chavez, the people put him back," Abdel Razzak el Hashim said.
"When the people support their president no one can do anything about it, not even the United States."
How much the Iraqis support Saddam Hussein is difficult to tell.
The Shiite south of Iraq is where a popular rebellion started in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War and there are expectations that if and when the US embarks on its adventure to topple Saddam Hussein, Shiites as well Kurds in northern Iraq will rise against the regime again.
But Wamid Nathmi, political science professor at the Baghdad University says nothing is certain.
"If the Americans are taking the Kurds and the Shiites for granted in their endeavor to overthrow the regime, they are making an awful mistake," he said. "It's true the Americans gave support to the Kurds, but nothing more than that, The Kurds were hoping for an independent state."
For the moment though, the US strike has been put on the backburner because of the violence between Palestinians and Israelis.
Oil embargo

Iraq has been strenghtening ties with other Arab nations
Iraq is definitely taking advantage of this time not only to strengthen its ties - most business - with its neighbours but also to portray itself as the only Arab country that is effectively supporting the Palestinians.
The Iraqi president has declared an oil embargo in support of the Palestinians. He also sends funds to families of 'martyrs' - now up from $10,000 to $25,000 as well as another $25,000 for each house destroyed in the town of Jenin in the West Bank during the Israeli operation Defensive Shield.
An apparent sign that Iraq is aware it has some breathing space, is the indefinite postponement of arms inspection talks at the UN that were supposed to take place on 18 April.
Iraq said it was keen not to overshadow the Palestinian cause.
Talks will be probably be rescheduled when Iraq feels the heat again. University professor Nathmi still believes that a US strike is not inevitable.
"I don't think that it would do any harm if Iraq accepted the return of the arms inspectors," he said, adding this would pre-empt US efforts to justify a military strike. The Iraqis would like to believe him.
This is the first in a series of features from inside Iraq by Kim Ghattas for BBC News Online.

Full coverage

Key stories
US clerics oppose war
Saudi war warning
Iraq polio campaign
'New Europe' hits back

Blair's political troubles
US and UK regroup
Blix tiptoes tightrope

Global voices on Iraq

News in Arabic

Inspectors' report: Point by point

Your views on inspectors' report
See also:

22 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq 'moving up anti-aircraft missiles'
19 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN condemns Iraq on human rights
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq postpones UN talks
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq vows to defy Western 'enemy'
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
US and UK call for Iraq 'change'
Internet links:

League of Arab States
United Nations Iraq Programme
Iraq's Permanent Mission to the UN
Kuwait information office

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