What have sanctions done to Iraq -- and to peace? A Conversation with Ayad Al-Qazzaz

Ayad Al-Qazzaz is an American sociologist who was born in Iraq and lived there until coming to Berkeley as a graduate student in 1963. As a professor at California State University at Sacramento, he specializes in Middle Eastern politics and stays in touch with relatives, friends, and scholars in Baghdad.

By Metta Spencer (interviewer) | 1998-01-01 12:00:00

METTA SPENCER: How do people in Iraq see their prospects today?

AYAD AL-QAZZAZ: The sanctions haven't worked, but they have strengthened Saddam and destroyed Iraqi society. They make the Iraqis dependent on him for their rations and he is able to use the sanctions to shift the blame from himself to the outsiders. He's a master manipulator. But the tragedy is that it's destroying Iraq's infrastructure -- factories, roads, hospitals, schools. There is no money for spare parts. The middle class is disappearing. Inflation is 5000% or more, while government jobs pay the equivalent of two or three dollars a month.

I have my own theory about why the U.S. wants to keep up the sanctions: The U.S. does not want Iraq to re-enter the oil market because if it does, the price of oil would collapse. Whom would that affect? Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Alaska, Louisiana, and Texas. Saudi Arabia before 1990 used to produce approximately 4.5 million barrels a day. After the war, because of the sanctions against Iraq, Saudi Arabia produces approximately 9 million barrels a day to substitute for the Iraqi oil. Saudi Arabia in 1989 made $25 billion or less from oil; now they make about $45 billion because of the increase. That money is spent in the U.S. -- largely for multi-billion dollar military contracts.

Since the Cold War, the military-industrial complex needs customers. The Gulf countries are their customers and they can pay cash. The U.S. is the biggest arms exporter in the world. It used to be the Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia alone spent over $200 billion in the last 25 or 30 years on armament -- most of it in the U.S. If the price of oil collapses it will affect the Saudi and Kuwaiti economies, and that will hurt Americans.

SPENCER: The Saudi economy isn't as hot as it used to be anyway.

AL-QAZZAZ: Yes, and if there's a collapse in oil it will be worse. If they don't cut production, I can guarantee you, oil will go for $10 or less. We have a historical example. It happened in 1986 when Saudi Arabia decided to increase its production and the price of oil collapsed. Reagan sent Bush to convince the Saudis to change their policy. This is behind why the U.S. wants to continue sanctions against Iraq.

This is not to say Saddam is a nice guy. There's a strange irony of history that he and Clinton are conspiring against the Iraqi people. Each blames the other for what is happening. The people of Iraq didn't vote for Saddam to be in power. They were not consulted about the war. The fabric of society is disintegrating. Mrs. Albright was on Sixty Minutes: Lesley Stahl told her half a million Iraqi children had died since 1990 and asked whether she thinks the U.S. should continue that policy. You know what she said? That it's unfortunate, but it's a price worth paying to maintain the U.S. interests in the area. She doesn't care!

And they don't seriously want to get rid of Saddam. He outlasted Major, Thatcher, Bush, and probably he's going to outlast Clinton too. All the U.S. does is try to destabilize the regime and nothing else.

SPENCER: During the Gulf War, Saddam's troops were on the periphery, not around Baghdad. The U.S. could have parachuted in some troops, surrounded the city, and said, "Everybody can come out with your hands up. We're going to seal off the city until we get Saddam." They didn't. And at the end of the Gulf War, when the U.S. troops were chasing his troops, they came to a screeching halt instead of finishing him off. Maybe they realized, "If we get rid of him, we'll have the responsibility of governing the place."

AL-QAZZAZ: There were four or five different arguments about why they didn't get rid of Saddam. Who is going to replace him? How much will it cost if we go all the way to Baghdad? How are we going to change our role from defender to occupier? I feel there are more important reasons: The United States needs a villain in foreign policy and does not want the responsibility of building a new country.

SPENCER: He keeps tweaking the U.S. nose and daring them to hit him, and the U.S. looks more and more stupid. If they wanted to get rid of him, could they?

AL-QAZZAZ: Yes. They have pictures showing movements of Iraqi troops. The CIA acknowledged the other day for the first time in history that the U.S. intelligence budget is $27 billion. With $27 billion, don't you think they could do something? There was a program by Peter Jennings about six months ago about Iraq. Members of the CIA acknowledged that they are spending $20 million of this money to destabilize the government in Iraq, and that they are looking for a new face who would be like Saddam. If something does happen to him, they want another military leader, not a democratic government. They need a villain, someone to scare the Saudis and Kuwaitis with, to justify U.S. military presence, and to encourage them to spend more money.

In the Middle East, the U.S. is not interested in promoting democracy because every time there is a fair election, the person who is brought to power becomes critical of U.S. foreign policy. It happened in Yemen in 1990 and in the Sudan. Democracy? In the Middle East an official such as Mubarak gets elected by 99.9%. And Arab leaders stay in their jobs longer than any other leaders. King Hussein has held his job since 1954 -- second only to Queen Elizabeth. Hafez Assad has been in his job since 1970. Saddam Hussein since 1978 but he was the real man in power since 1968. Arafat, another autocrat, since 1969.

Kissinger said that during his shuttle diplomacy in Egypt all that he needed to do was to convince Sadat. The prime minister, foreign minister, and secretaries didn't matter. But when he went to Israel he had to convince the garbage collector. Democracy takes time, and it brings multiple points of view. That doesn't promote American interests.

Schwartzkopf went see King Fahad in 1990, showed him pictures, and said that the Iraqis are probably coming to Saudi Arabia. He said Fahad made the decision to invite the American troops without even consulting his council. So the U.S. policy is one of containment, not replacement. As long as Saddam is in the box, there's no problem, but if he comes out we rattle his chains.

SPENCER: What was his motive? He took the initiative this time by blocking the inspections.

AL-QAZZAZ: Not exactly. About two months ago the U.S. introduced another resolution in the Security Council to curtail the travels of Iraqi officials. The resolution passed with one condition: that it would not be implemented. The Russians and the French wanted to give it as a warning. Mrs. Albright gave a speech in March in Georgetown University and said Saddam has to conform with all United Nations resolutions and also prove his peaceful intentions. If his intentions are not peaceful the U.N. won't lift the sanctions. He has no incentive to comply with the U.N. resolutions. He did what he did in order to capture world attention and he succeeded a little, but not much. They may increase the oil for food agreement.

SPENCER: How much can he export now?

AL-QAZZAZ: Iraq is allowed to export $2 billion every six months. Almost half of the money will not go for food and medicine. It will go to pay for U.N. operations and compensation to Kuwait. So in reality, they can spend about a billion dollars now.

In 1990 Iraq used to spend about $6 billion a year to import food and medicine. And Iraq's population now is about 22 million whereas in 1990 it was about 17 or 18. If you divide it, per Iraqi person it comes to about 35 cents apiece. And even the $1 billion is not being used efficiently because, whatever Iraq requests, a lot of it is denied by the committee in charge. Nothing with a military or a dual use is allowed -- but everything has a dual use. They could say, "this electric shaver has a military purpose." When Iraq wants to buy wheat from Sudan, they don't allow that. Even [U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.] Bill Richardson says the sanctions need to be implemented more liberally. But Saddam doesn't care; the sanctions are not hurting him. I would argue that he doesn't actually want them lifted because he wants the people dependent on him. If you lift the sanctions it may set them loose.

SPENCER: I do take seriously the concern that something must be done when he's building chemical and biological weapons.

AL-QAZZAZ: The commissions have been there for seven years with all their equipment. What have they been doing there?

SPENCER: They've kept him in his box. They've probably inhibited him.

AL-QAZZAZ: If he has chemical and biological weapons, that knowledge is coming from somewhere -- probably the West.

SPENCER: There was a story on TV about a California-trained Iraqi woman who directs his biological weapons research.

AL-QAZZAZ: I don't know her name. I think a lot of the charges are exaggerated. The war of 1990 shows that he must not have such weapons or he would have used them.

SPENCER: I heard that Bush warned him that if he used chemical weapons, Bush would use nuclear weapons on him in response.

AL-QAZZAZ: This means he would never be able to use them. There is always a threat that someone else will use the nuclear weapons in response. There's no question that he has something. The guy has a lot of political ambitions, and he's shrewd. But there are alternative approaches to a solution.

If the sanctions are lifted, the U.N. can keep its other activities in operation in Iraq. And the money is not going to be under his control anyhow. Right now it's not under his control. We can continue the surveillance the U.N. is doing now, but increase oil production, and let Iraq invest a little in their infrastructure, such as education and hospitals.

SPENCER: What about the people in the U.N. who want to end the sanctions?

AL-QAZZAZ: They are not powerful. The veto paralyzes the Security Council. Kofi Annan was going to recommend how much Iraq's oil sales should be increased, but the U.S. said not to do it and he didn't.

The Arab-Israeli conflict has a lot to do with Saddam's image in the Arab countries, which is not totally negative among the people. They keep mentioning double standards: "You keep implementing resolutions against Iraq but you do nothing about the resolutions against Israel." If you resolve that problem, the credibility of the U.S. would be higher, but instead it's going down. U.S. credibility is high among governments but not among the people.

SPENCER: If you were U.S. President today, how would you try to replace Saddam? There is no obvious opposition movement.

AL-QAZZAZ: There are several, mainly outside the country. The opposition is basically sectarian, ethnic, and religious.

SPENCER: Is that part of the fear that they'd get a fundamentalist instead?

AL-QAZZAZ: That's part of it. But no, I don't have any strategy for replacing him with a democratic leader. Maybe if I had $27 billion to use I could figure out something. To be realistic, it won't be easy to get rid of Saddam. However it happens, there probably will be a bloody struggle for power afterward, and democracy may not come soon. But the sanctions certainly aren't getting rid of him. The U.N. should definitely continue monitoring his military activity and controlling the money from the oil sales, but let it be spent on the infrastructure, and not only for food, so the Iraqi people can benefit.

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1998

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1998, page 15. Some rights reserved.

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