The politics, sensibilities and lives of Iraqis born in the 1970s and 1980s were intimately shaped by harsh US sanctions on essential and non-essential goods, Saddam Hussein’s wars and the US invasion in 2003 with its devastating war and aftermath. What can a young Iraqi possibly hope for now?
From 1990 to 2003, Iraq languished under comprehensive UN sanctions that prohibited foreign trade. When sanctions were finally lifted, many economists and pundits, as well as Iraqis themselves, hoped for a rapidly expanding economy, brisk reconstruction and a return to prosperity. They have been sorely disappointed.
It was February 1987, at the front lines near Khorramshahr, in the south of Iran along the Iraqi border. We had been engaged in heavy battles for over a week. Our troops had penetrated fortified Iraqi positions, and the Iraqis were making us pay: Artillery and mortar shells rained down on us with a vengeance, as did bombs from Iraqi planes.
It is argued that the celebrated Arab protest movements have changed the path of visual arts in the region. Headlines predict that art inspired by the uprisings will be freer and more critical. Artists have partaken in the displays of mass dissent, demonstrating in the streets and protesting further through their work. Inflated claims notwithstanding, and despite unfulfilled hopes, the protests have indeed directed welcome attention to art scenes in Arab cities. Change, many still hope, is finally possible.
Joy Gordon, Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions (Harvard, 2010).
Kuwait has its diwaniyyas, Yemen its qat chews. But for languorous trade in rumor, gossip and flashes of political insight, there is no substitute for chain-smoking and eating Iraqi masgouf.
At one of several Iraqi establishments in Sharjah, a down-market cousin of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the host centered the bulging fish upon a table for six. “Iraq’s economy is like the fish,” he said, laughing. “How much you get depends on how quickly you eat.” It is an apt description of today’s Iraq — the country’s patrimony is literally being divvied up and devoured.
The White House is pressing ahead with its stated goal of persuading the UN Security Council to pass far-reaching sanctions to punish Iran for refusing to suspend its nuclear research program. Sanctions are what President George W. Bush is referring to when he pledges to nervous US allies that he intends to “continue to work together to solve this problem diplomatically.” The non-diplomatic solution in this framing of the “problem,” presumably, would be airstrikes on nuclear facilities in the Islamic Republic.
Since Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent Middle East tour concluded without concrete results, and unity talks between Fatah and Hamas remain at a standstill, the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian political compromise appears bleaker than ever. But Palestinian lives and livelihoods should no longer be held hostage to the reigning diplomatic stagnation.
Secretary Rice’s recent Middle East tour concluded without any discussion of peace between Israel and Palestine. Unity talks between Fatah and Hamas have hit a standstill. In other words, the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian political compromise appears bleaker than ever. Meanwhile, US and European governments reiterate their demands of the Palestinian Authority after Hamas’ electoral victory in March: recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace accords. While Hamas has repeatedly offered Israel a long-term truce, they have not announced their recognition of the Jewish state.
“All options are on the table,” says President George W. Bush when asked about press reports that the Pentagon is drawing up plans to bomb Iran to derail the nuclear research program there. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shoots back: "The Iranian nation will respond to any blow with double the intensity." Even if Bush’s saber rattling is merely a psychological ploy, and even if the Iranians are also just blowing smoke, the danger is that the cycle of threat and counter-threat could spin out of control.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is in hot water with Washington and European capitals because of its apparent pursuit of a nuclear bomb. Dangling carrots of increased trade, the Europeans are trying to persuade Iran to renounce atomic ambitions. Skeptical of these methods but bogged down in Iraq, the Bush administration has grumbled on the sidelines.
Rep. Ralph Hall opened a set of Congressional hearings on July 8 with a dramatic flourish, denouncing "the deaths of thousands of Iraqis through malnutrition and lack of appropriate medical supplies." "We have a name for that in the United States," the Texas Republican told a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "It's called murder."
Late in the evening of November 27, the US and Russia appear to have reached an agreement to once again roll over existing sanctions on Iraq for six months, by which time Secretary of State Colin Powell hopes the two powers will have agreed on a version of his proposed "smart sanctions." The December 3 deadline to renew the UN oil for food program, under which Iraq is allowed to sell its oil on the world market to import needed civilian goods, brings the familiar rhetoric, mutual accusations and rejections that have accompanied most renewals since 1997 when the program began. But this time, the stakes are higher, and the outcome is linked to broader uncertainties about future US policy in the Middle East.
(This article was updated on November 14, 2001.)