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Last Updated: Friday, 11 April, 2003, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Analysis: Erasing Saddam's legacy
By Gerald Butt
Regional analyst

Pulling down statues of Saddam Hussein, burning his portrait and even introducing new currency that does not bear his image have all been important symbolic gestures in the months since his downfall.

Toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad
Saddam's 24-year rule came to a dramatic end earlier this year
But erasing the legacy of Saddam will not be so easy.

In a region where dictatorships still flourish, Saddam Hussein's grip on power was tighter and more ruthless than most. His authority, and that vested in the ruling Baath party, pervaded all levels of society.

The power of the president and of his ruling apparatus was upheld, furthermore, by a ruthless network of informers working to various internal intelligence agencies.

The effect of this massively top-heavy political structure was, to all intents and purposes, to eliminate politics from Iraq.

Iraqi people were not only disenfranchised by the political system, but they were terrorised by it as well.

Cultural revolution

Building a new one will be a slow and difficult process, given the competing claims of ethnic and religious groups in different areas of the country.

US President George W Bush addresses the Iraqi people on Thursday
Direct broadcasts from the West are part of a US-led campaign to change Iraq

Nor will it be easy to win the confidence of the Iraqi people sufficiently to coax them towards a tradition in which they have a role in the political process.

Another challenge will be to persuade Iraqis that the men and women chosen to hold top civil service posts and run local government departments have been selected on merit, rather than on the basis of their membership of the ruling party.

It will be a shock, too, when Iraqi television returns to the air and newspapers reappear without being dominated by portraits of the country's president.

A cultural revolution in every sense will be needed.

Education overhaul

One of the areas where most effort will be required to eradicate the Saddam legacy, and prepare future generations of Iraqis for life in a democratic society, is education.

Looting in Baghdad
Iraq has plunged into chaos and widespread looting

School text books will have to be rewritten, and the country's history and political geography syllabuses will require major revision.

So too will programmes for teacher training, which have been interlinked with the state security system.

Iraqi opposition groups have called for a special task force to be set up by the transitional government in Baghdad as a matter of priority to deal with these issues.

The other problem facing education, along with most sectors of Iraqi society is the effect of UN sanctions.

A report by a working group of Iraqi exiles said that since the Gulf War of 1991 "an entire generation of Iraqi children, particularly in the southern provinces, has received little or no education".

Schools and colleges, as well as social services, health, transport and communications, have been starved of funds and are in a state of serious neglect and decay.

Iraq's infrastructure was close to collapse even before the latest war started - damaged by the effects of two preceding conflicts and eroded by neglect resulting from an economic recession that was made worse by the sanctions.

Dependent on UN

The UN-controlled oil-for-food programme allowed regulated oil exports that financed the import of food and medicine.

As the years passed, more and more Iraqis came to depend on UN food rations to survive. Providing nourishment to millions of needy Iraqis who were driven into poverty by the effects of sanctions, brought upon the country by Saddam, will be an important challenge.

Throughout the years of sanctions, such funds that came into Saddam Hussein's hands were spent largely on the institutions that he relied on to remain in power - elite army brigades and the intelligence services, as well as lavish palaces and other extravagances.

Any sign that a new government in Baghdad is similarly corrupt and nepotistic will undermine the public's confidence in a democratic future, where power is not imposed roughshod from on high.

Saddam's money came from oil. But such was his hold on the country that even senior officials in the oil sector and the central bank had no idea exactly how much revenue was coming into Iraq, or how it was being spent.

'Dedicated professionals'

Aside from the billions of dollars required to repair and renovate the existing oil facilities, a major challenge will be to create a new structure for the sector that allows for transparency at all levels.

But on the positive side, Iraq's oil industry has been operated for decades at senior management level by dedicated professionals who have largely been untainted by Baath party influence.

"Each department in the oil sector was headed by appointees from the party and/or intelligence services, so they would obviously have to go," said one Iraqi oil expert.

"But among the professionals, there are only a handful who are known to have had links with the party."

Today, the Baath party may be gone, but its influence will not be forgotten for a long time. Nor will the overbearing legacy of Saddam.

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