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Iraqis Cope With Embargo, Rationing

January 4, 1991

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The customs officer at Saddam International Airport looked at the passenger’s bulging bag and asked: ″khubuz?″ - Arabic for bread. The man nodded. The officer let him pass.

Another passenger on the Iraqi Airways flight from neighboring Jordan was pushing a trolley laden with four tires. The officer smiled and let him pass, too.

Five months after the United Nations clamped an economic embargo against Iraq, people are coping. Although there are no signs anyone is starving, it is clear the sanctions have made life more difficult.

Jordan is Baghdad’s only steady link with the rest of the world because of the United Nations’ air and sea blockade in retaliation for Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion, and subsequent annexation, of Kuwait.

Iraqis flying in from Jordan are toting suitcases filled with sugar, tea, powdered milk, even hard-boiled eggs.

A dozen eggs cost 8 dinars, or $24 at the artificially high official rate of exchange in Baghdad. The price is beyond the reach of most Iraqis who earn on average the equivalent of about $600 a month.

Also in short supply are meat, rice, beans and medicines, with the prices of all goods hiked by up to 700 percent.

″No doubt it is hurting us. But an Arab will go hungry but never give away his honor,″ Information and Culture Minister Latif Jassim said of the impact of the sanctions.

Health Minister Abdul Salaam Mohammad Sa’id said at least 2,042 Iraqi children below the age of five have died since August because of a lack of medicines.

The report cannot be independently verified.

″People are complaining,″ said a Western diplomat. ″But they are complaining to themselves only. There is no sign that it will snowball into an anti-government feeling or protest, not yet.″

″If you are thinking that people will come on the street shouting ‘Down with Saddam,’ you are wrong,″ said an Asian diplomat. ″The time has not come for anything like that.

″And there is no way we can judge the impact of the sanctions on the Iraqi war machine until they are put to the test by a military confrontation,″ he added.

U.S. presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Thursday that the United States had concluded sanctions alone would not force Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait.

″We don’t have months and days and years. We have a United Nations deadline that represents the thinking of the entire world that enough is enough. Time’s up,″ Fitzwater said.

The U.N. Security Council authorized the use of force against Iraq if it does not leave Kuwait by Jan. 15.

CIA director William Webster said Wednesday that Iraqi industry had been hard-hit, with more than 90 percent of imports and 97 percent of exports shut off.

But in congressional testimony he said there was no guarantee that economic hardship would lead to internal unrest or compel Saddam to change his policies.

During a 280-mile journey from Baghdad to the village of Judayyidat Ar’ar on the Saudi border, none of a dozen factories along the way appeared to be in operation.

Stray dogs and camels roamed outside locked cement, cigarette and fertilizer factory gates.

″They are all closed now, there is no raw material to run them,″ said an Iraqi official.

But some food mainstays are still available at roadside desert stands.

″We still have plenty of chicken, even in the desert, to eat and Pepsi to wash them down,″ said another official.

In Baghdad, a city of 4 million people, there are no visible shortages, except for the rationed items of rice, sugar, flour, cooking oil, beans, tea, milk powder and detergents.

Shop windows display a cornucopia of goods, which the Iraqis say are from their 19th province - Kuwait.

On sale on a recent day were green asparagus from New Zealand, luncheon meat from Holland, Swiss milk chocolate, green peas with carrots from Spain, mango pickles from India, caviar from Iran, and hot pepper sauce from the United States.

Nearly all the containers carry the markings of a Kuwaiti importer.

″We are managing,″ said an Iraqi father of three children. ″So long as the government continues to give us subsidized food it is OK.

″But if that stops, we do not know what to do,″ he said on condition of anonymity, like other Iraqis, who fear government reprisals.

An Iraqi adult’s monthly allotment of rationed goods is 2 ounces of tea, 26 ounces of sugar, about 3 pounds of rice, about a half pound of beans and 11 pounds of wheat.

″It is not enough, so we are trying to eat less,″ said the Iraqi father.

″We love bread made of flour, but now the government is giving us bread made of half barley and half flour,″ he said. ″It tastes bad, but what can we to do?″

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