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A sorry state of affairs

Iraq, U.S. play blame game for Iraqi civilians' suffering

With per-capita income down and high inflation, the Iraqi people are facing difficult financial times.
With per-capita income down and high inflation, the Iraqi people are facing difficult financial times.

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The following is a text adaptation of a joint CNN Presents/New York Times special report, "Showdown: Iraq."

(CNN) -- On the surface, the Iraqi capital of Baghdad is a normal, bustling city. But underneath, a once-prosperous economy has been ravaged by war and economic sanctions.

Despite sitting on oil reserves worth more than $3 trillion, Iraq's gross domestic product -- a key measure of the economy -- shrank 6 percent last year and probably will contract again this year, the independent Economist Intelligence Unit said last month.

For Iraq's 25 million inhabitants, the per capita income is less than it was three years ago. The inflation rate stands at 50 percent -- an improvement over the 100 percent five years ago, but still a tremendous drain on spending power -- according to the EIU.

Infant mortality, poverty and malnutrition are much higher than before the Gulf War, clean water is in short supply and children can often be spotted begging in the streets.

No one denies that life for most everyday Iraqis is difficult, certainly far worse than it was over a decade ago when its literacy rate was among the highest in the Middle East and residents had one of the region's best health care systems, thanks to well-trained doctors and new technologies. And the bustling economy, literally fueled by an abundance of oil, made Iraq a model for developing countries.

The contentious issue is figuring out why things are so bad and, correspondingly, who is to blame.

Iraq: U.S. seeks world domination

Majid and Suhair al-Ghazali work five jobs between them, earning a total of $200 a month. In an interview sanctioned and monitored by the Iraqi government, they said the reason for the demise of Iraq's economy is clear: the United States.

"Shame on them," Majid's father said, via translators. "What do they want from us? Let us just live in peace. Enough, enough, enough with all this."

It is impossible to know if this statement is shared by most Iraqis, or even if it is al-Ghazalis own political opinion, as Saddam's extensive security apparatus takes extreme measures to curb dissent. But there is no doubting Iraq's sorry state of affairs.

With five jobs between them to make ends meet, the al-Ghazali family, blames the U.S. for their hard times.
With five jobs between them to make ends meet, the al-Ghazali family blames the U.S. for their hard times.

Iraqi officials have accused Washington of pushing sanctions, fabricating reports that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and threatening military action variably to bolster Israel, take over Iraq's oil and profit from the "business" of war.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz added another motive at a news conference earlier this month in Baghdad, saying the United States plans to launch an attack "to dominate the world, starting with Iraq."

In a letter read by Foreign Minister Naji Sabri this month to the U.N. General Assembly, Saddam wrote that President Bush, his allies and his predecessors have been hypocritical and immoral in their militarism and sanctions against Iraq.

"He pretended to care for the people of Iraq after he and other presidents before him have killed by the use of weapons, including depleted uranium, and by the blockade which is now more than 12 years old, more than 1 million and 700,000 innocent Iraqis out of a population of 25 million citizens," wrote Saddam.

Bush blames Saddam for Iraqis' 'misery'

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and several top Bush administration officials have in recent weeks laid out their argument against Saddam, framing it as a case of good versus evil. They claim the Iraqi leader has terrorized, defrauded and deceived the Iraqi people to further his weapons of mass destruction program and consolidate his grip on power.

The oil-for-food program has had some impact on the daily lives of the Iraqi people.
The oil-for-food program has had some impact on the daily lives of the Iraqi people.

"Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation and rape," Bush told the U.N. General Assembly in September.

"Wives are tortured in front of their husbands; children in the presence of their parents; and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state."

Beyond the brutal repression, U.S. officials say Saddam has indirectly inflicted tremendous harm on Iraqis by flouting international law and past agreements. They accuse him of subverting funds from the U.N. oil-for-food program and profiting from illicit smuggling -- all to indulge his personal desires and preserve his power.

"He blames the suffering of Iraq's people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself and to buy arms for his country," said Bush. "By refusing to comply with his own agreements, he bears full guilt for the hunger and misery of innocent Iraqi citizens."

A wily survivor

Eleven years and counting of U.N. sanctions -- tied to the elimination of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, as verified by U.N. inspectors -- have hurt Iraq's economy and its people but, outwardly at least, failed to loosen Saddam's grip on power.

Saddam has employed many political techniques to ensure his survival, including playing tribal and ethnic differences to his advantage.

"There was a quid pro quo with these tribal leaders that Saddam Hussein would provide them weapons and money, pander to their interests in their neighborhood, and they in turn would control their own people in the name of Saddam Hussein," said Middle East expert Sandra Mackey.

A number of heavy-handed, militaristic agencies that report directly to Saddam, including the Special Security Service and Iraqi Intelligence Service, protect the Iraqi president by targeting and, according to reports, killing many of his critics. Whatever the economic or social state of his country, Saddam has consistently demonstrated his resolve to maintain and, when possible, increase his power.

"Iraq is run by fear," said Khidir Hamza, a former Iraqi nuclear engineer who defected in 1994. "The glue that keeps things together is fear -- fear for your family, for yourself, for your friends."

-- CNN Asia Business Editor Geoff Hiscock and CNN Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

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