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CNN's Brent Sadler looks at Iraq since the Gulf War

January 16, 2001
1 p.m. EST
graphic
Brent Sadler now  

Brent Sadler has been CNN's Beirut bureau chief since the bureau reopened in 1997. Sadler has covered stories throughout the Middle East, Europe, Russia and South America.

Chat Moderator: Welcome to CNN.com, Brent Sadler.

Brent Sadler: I am the bureau chief of CNN Beirut, working as a journalist in Baghdad on and off for the last 20 years. I was in Baghdad when the first cruise missiles fell on the capital, and I now reflect on the 10 years since the Gulf War.

Chat Moderator: Compared to Iraq at the end of Desert Storm, what are economic conditions like in the country now?

Brent Sadler: Since the beginning of sanctions, after the invasion of Kuwait 10 years ago, there has been a continuing reduction in the standard of life for most Iraqis. The United Nations' oil-for-food program has helped alleviate the suffering, but in practice, sanctions have hurt the people more than the regime.

The wealth of the middle class has been virtually wiped out. While a majority of Iraqis struggle, the government of Iraq, with Saddam Hussein at the top, is now beginning to benefit from high oil prices. And as yet, this newfound wealth is having little beneficial impact on the population.

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Chat Moderator: What is the mood among the Iraqi people? Do they blame Saddam Hussein for most of the country's problems or the United States?

Brent Sadler: Iraq is a police state in every sense of the word, and there is no genuine voice of internal opposition or dissent to the ruling establishment. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq has spent most of the last decade under sanctions or at war, and there is nothing to suggest the hardships of the population at large will be significantly alleviated for as long as Saddam Hussein stays in power.

Iraqis are led to believe in the state-controlled media, that western policy led by the United States has caused much of their difficulties. In truth though, most Iraqis know that it is their own leader, his ambitions for political and regional power, that has repeatedly leed the country into conflict.

Chat Moderator: Do the Iraqi people respect Hussein, or do they fear him?

Brent Sadler: There is a widespread awe of the cult personality of the Iraqi regime. Saddam Hussein is held in awe by most Iraqis, who at the same time fear his methods of iron grip rule throughout Iraq and his competing security and intelligence agencies.

Chat Moderator: Who is the most likely successor to Hussein, and is that person being groomed for office now?

Brent Sadler: Talk of succession in Iraq is generally discouraged, but there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is preparing the way for continuation of rule for his own family.

His eldest son, Udai Saddam Hussein, has long been thought a likely candidate. But the president's second son, Quasi, has built a powerful base within Iraq as head of some of the country’s most important security and intelligence organizations. Some observers believe that Quasi could now be favored to succeed Saddam Hussein.

Question from the chat room: Isn't the son considered to be even more barbaric?

Brent Sadler: Given a track record of repression and persecution displayed by Iraq over the last 20 years, there is no doubt his sons have been schooled in the practice of ruling Iraq by force.

Udai Saddam Hussein is widely reported as having killed one of his father's aides and was himself the subject of an assassination attempt which left him partially paralyzed. As head of the important security organization, Quasi has proven a capable follower of his father's policies

In many senses, Saddam Hussein's "Mother of all Battles," declared 10 years ago, is still being fought, but in the political ring, rather than in the battlefield.
— Brent Sadler

Chat Moderator: If there is a change in leadership, will there be a change in attitude or strategy toward the United States?

Brent Sadler: Any possible change in leadership is regarded by the U.S. as most likely coming from within Iraq's own military establishment. Given the past 10 years of sanctions and constant anti-Western rhetoric from today's leadership, any new government might not be able to turn the opinions of the nation around so quickly.

However, even under Saddam Hussein, there is a widespread appreciation of the West's difficulties toward Iraq among people at large. And in all my years of working inside the country, especially since the end of the Gulf War, I have never encountered any open hostility towards the people of the U.S. or other Western states. Iraqis say their "beef" is with the government of the United States and Great Britain, not their people.

Question from the chat room: What types of U.S. sanctions are currently in place towards Iraq?

graphic
Brent Sadler in 1991  

Brent Sadler: A wide-ranging regime of sanctions are imposed by the United Nations -- in effect since the invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990. The United States also has its own sanctions policy, which would likely remain intact even if the U.N. sanctions were to be relaxed. Saddam Hussein is currently trying to exploit a thaw in relations from some Arab countries toward Iraq in the hope of breaking Baghdad's isolation and economic woes.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for us?

Brent Sadler: I have just finished a documentary reflecting over the 10 years since operation Desert Storm for CNN, which airs about 90 minutes from now on CNN International.

The Iraqi establishment, many of whose ministers I have personally got to know over my years of reporting, appear no less steadfast or shaken in their policy towards the United States and sanctions. While repeatedly demanding an end to sanctions, the Iraqis still refuse to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into their country to give a clean bill of health over weapons of mass destruction.

In many senses, Saddam Hussein's "Mother of all Battles," declared 10 years ago, is still being fought, but in the political ring, rather than in the battlefield.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Brent Sadler.

Brent Sadler: Thank you very much for joining us for this chat. I welcome the opportunity to share some of my experiences with a country that I feel certain will remain in the headlines for a considerable time to come.

Brent Sadler joined us from Beirut; CNN.com provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place Tuesday, January 16, 2001.



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