International sanctions drive Iraqis to God
In this story:
June 13, 1997
Web posted at: 9:01 p.m. EDT (0101 GMT)
From Reporter Ben Wedeman
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Nearly seven years of international
sanctions have brought tremendous hardships to the people of
Iraq, and for many there is only one place that brings them
any respite: the mosque.
For an hour or so on Friday, the Muslim day of rest, the
faithful escape the cares of daily life at places such as the
Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad.
Iraqis say the number of people going to the mosque has
increased steadily in recent years as life has become ever
more difficult under the sanctions.
"Thank God, we have been through these hardships, and it's
had a big impact on us," says one man. "We've been affected
by this tragedy, so we've gone back to God."
Iraq was barred by the U.N. Security Council from selling oil
abroad after it invaded Kuwait in 1990, thereby cutting off a
major revenue source. Late last year, the council loosened
the sanctions slightly by approving an "oil-for-
Since the invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent setbacks at
the hands of an international force led by the United States,
the Iraqi government has used religious themes to rally
support at home and abroad.
Shortly after the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq modified its flag
to include the expression Allahu akbar -- God is great.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has become the country's
primary proponent of piety. In 1995, he ordered the
construction of a mosque called, predictably enough, the
Great Saddam Mosque, which designers say will be one of the
biggest in the world.
Before the Gulf war, Baghdad was an easygoing town, where a
night out was a popular pastime. But sanctions changed all
that. Times are tough, cash is in short supply, and making a
living -- not having a good time -- is the top priority for
The mosque is one of the few places where little has
changed. And that is a comfort for many Iraqis, weary after
years of hardship and war -- not only over the invasion of
Kuwait but also over earlier battles with Iran.
Al-Kazimiya Mosque is the focal point of Baghdad's Shiite
Muslim population, one of the two main Islamic sects. The
faithful travel from throughout the country to visit the tomb
of Imam Kazim, a revered religious leader.
"As a result of the war, we fought and the sanctions, what
can we do?" says another man. "We have turned to God. Only
God will listen to our problems."
There are whispers in Baghdad that Muslim activists are
engaged in an underground struggle against the Iraqi regime,
but the whispers are virtually impossible to confirm.
Whether they are praying for a change in the regime or an end
to sanctions, Iraqis are hoping their prayers will soon be
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