Most Iraqi bridges, roads hit by allies now repaired

January 24, 1993|By Paul Lewis | Paul Lewis,New York Times News Service 1/8

UNITED NATIONS -- Two years after a strict embargo wa imposed on Iraq, the country has repaired almost all the 134 bridges cut by allied bombing, rebuilt hundreds of miles of damaged road and railway track, and restored ravaged electrical grids, communications networks and broadcast equipment.

Just how Iraq has succeeded in repairing all this damage while bound by an import embargo and under intermittent threat of attack is a closely guarded secret.

But experts assume that a combination of sanctions busting, improvisation and domestic manufacture of needed parts has allowed President Saddam Hussein to stabilize Iraq's economy at a low but sustainable level, making collapse unlikely.

The failure of the Security Council's embargo to topple Mr. Hussein after the invasion of Kuwait has not surprised experts on the subject.

Richard W. Murphy, a former assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, said: "With 98 percent of Iraq's foreign exchange coming from oil, the embargo didn't seem like wishful thinking at the time. But we underestimated Iraq's ingenuity."

Al-Sarai Palace in Baghdad, once the seat of the Ottoman Turkish governor, contains a museum devoted to Iraq's reconstruction.

The most powerful symbol of Iraq's determination to rebuild after the Persian Gulf war and keep from collapsing into starvation, economic chaos and rebellion under the weight of sanctions is the Third River.

The river, actually a canal, flows 350 miles from near Baghdad to the Persian Gulf at Basra, running between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

Working 24 hours a day for nearly a year, engineers dug the canal by using construction equipment left by foreign companies after sanctions forced them out of the country.

The embargo imposed by the Security Council in 1990 bars trade and financial dealings with Iraq except for food, medicine and humanitarian assistance, and bars Baghdad from selling oil, its major export.

The Security Council ordered the ridding of Iraq's chemical and biological arms and its nuclear program, and said Baghdad must compensate victims of the Kuwait invasion.

During the embargo, the government has tried to protect ordinary people against the pain of soaring food prices by providing everyone with a ration that ensures a reduced but adequate level of nutrition.

U.N. studies suggest that this monthly ration -- increased in October to 16 pounds of flour, 3 pounds of rice and sugar and smaller quantities of other goods -- gives adults a daily intake of only 1,417 calories, but that the average diet, augmented by private purchases, contains a more acceptable 2,189 calories.

This month, the government announced further ration increases of up to 20 percent and promised an increase in the allowance for families with small children as well as pay raises for government employees and members of the armed forces.

Patrick Clawson, of the National Defense University in Washington, the author of a study on the impact of the U.N. sanctions, said, "Saddam can reasonably argue to his people that his postwar policies have stabilized the economic situation while preserving Iraqi pride in resisting foreign pressures."

This, in turn, has helped give Mr. Hussein the confidence to continue to defy his enemies and, when necessary, to absorb the punishment they mete out to him -- as shown in the recent quarrel over U.N. weapons inspectors and the American-led air strikes that followed.

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