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Monday, December 1, 1997 Published at 15:24 GMT




image: [ Allan Little reports from Jordan ] Iraq coming in from the cold?

Allan Little
Reporting from Jordan

United Nations monitors in Iraq have resumed their work inspecting weapons sites, after three weeks of high tension caused by the Iraqi government's attempt to exclude United States officials. On Wednesday Russia, which helped broker the agreement on the resumption, said it would work towards the lifting of the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, in return for Iraq re-admitting the inspectors. Allan Little, who was in Iraq during the war and is currently in neighbouring Jordan, says the week's events show that there's now a consensus, embracing both the Arab world and Russia, for the ending of Iraq's international isolation.

I will call him Karim because that is not his real name, and for a few weeks in 1991, he and I became friends, of sorts, across a great divide. He was one of the Iraqi government minders assigned to keep an eye on me and my colleagues as we struggled to report the Allied bombardment of Baghdad. On the morning of February 13, he listened carefully to every word as I filed my early report by satellite phone describing the previous night's bombardment. We would watch each evening from our fifth floor window as cruise missiles fired from ships hundreds of miles away slammed into their targets again and again. They defied the early warning systems, those missiles, and the first would strike the city before the air raid siren could sound so that the first intimation of the coming assault would be a sharp high pitched crack in the still warm night air as the missile passed, followed instantaneously by a deafening crash of metal hitting stone and finally the deep resonating thunder of the explosion.

The dawn raid had passed and the city was quiet again. Karim said an air raid shelter that had been designed to withstand nuclear attack had been struck in a middle class suburb called Amariyah, and that there were casualities. I should go with him.

I had seen dead bodies before, but I had not seen 300 all at one and so grotesquely maimed. My colleagues and I reported what we saw, though much of what we saw was beyond words.

On the way back to the hotel Karim and I were silent. He knew that he would not have to delete a single line of my despatch that day and there was a grim satisfaction for him in that. When we were alone I asked him whether he accepted that none of this would be happening if the government he served had done what it had been given ample time to do - to get out of occupied Kuwait by agreement. Karim knew the government line. "Kuwait is not occupied, it is liberated. It is the 19th province of Iraq. Iraq is whole again." He said it but he didn't believe it.

I know this because two days later I caught him unguarded. Baghdad Radio had forewarned of an important announcement to be broadcast at 9am. Karim and I huddled with others around a scratchy transistor and Karim began to translate. "His Excellency Saddam Hussein, may God preserve him, has informed the council of ministers that Iraq will comply - with immediate effect - with UN Security Council resolutions, including that ordering a complete withdrawal from Kuwait ..." and as Karim translated his face lit up in relief and celebration that this war which he hated with all his heart but dared not denounce would soon be over. But the announcement rambled, it lasted 15 minutes and at the end there came conditions. Impossible conditions. The immediate lifting of all sanctions. The United Nations to pay reparations for all war damage in Iraq. And - finally - comprehensive sanctions against Israel, and Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Karim sank again into his despair.

I waited again until we were alone. I asked Karim about that passing reaction. "If Kuwait is the 19th province and Iraq is whole again, why were you so happy for those few minutes when you believed Iraq was about to withdraw? If you could choose, wouldn't you choose that Iraq should pull out of Kuwait." Karim had studied English at Edinburgh during the years when I was an undergraduate in that city. We were educational contemporaries. We had talked about old Edinburgh haunts that we both knew and loved. Now he was looking at me from behind his wall of silence and fear, as though this conversation might cost him dearly . "My son is nine years old", he said, after a pause. "We are so proud of him. He was doing so well in school. But since these bombs have been falling he is a different boy. He is afraid even to go to the bathroom by himself. Does that answer your question?"

I wonder where Karim is now. Whether he has survived the humilitations and degradations of the last seven years. In 1991, he was, for me, one brief contact with the mind of civilised, educated, terrified middle class Iraq; the voice of civic society cowed by a cruel and merciless tyranny. What have the degradations and humiliations of the last seven years done to the sensibilities of that class, to the durability of those civilised instincts? Even in 1991, to be opposed in frightened silence to Saddam Hussein did not, of necessity, imply support for the United States agenda in this region. And now such goodwill as the United States enjoyed among the Arabs has evaporated. We are entering a new phase in the Middle East. Astonishingly, and to the inevitable fury of the US and Britain, Saddam Hussein appears to be pulling it off. There is a consensus building for the lifting of economic sanctions. The Arab world - even Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - want to bring Saddam Hussein in from the cold. They boycotted Madeleine Albright in Qatar this week, and in contrast they will, for the first time in years, welcome Saddam Hussein's envoy to the Islamic Conference Organisation in Tehran next month. And whatever he intended to achieve by provoking this latest standoff, Saddam Hussein has demonstrated this: it is now Britain and the US who are out of the loop; and we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Iraq's isolation, with Saddam Hussein disarmed, perhaps cruel and unyielding and paranoid, but still in power and still to be reckoned with, not only by the West but by Karim and his family and all civilised frightened Iraq.







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