US embassy cable - 02AMMAN2423

SADDAM'S REGIME PROSPERING AND CONFIDENT ACCORDING TO LONGTIME JOURNALIST

Identifier: 02AMMAN2423
Wikileaks: View 02AMMAN2423 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Amman
Created: 2002-05-16 06:00:00
Classification: SECRET
Tags: PREL PGOV ECON ETRD IZ
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 002423 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/15/2007 
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, ECON, ETRD, IZ 
SUBJECT: SADDAM'S REGIME PROSPERING AND CONFIDENT ACCORDING 
TO LONGTIME JOURNALIST 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Edward Gnehm.  Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
 
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Summary 
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1. (S) Journalist Peter Arnett (please protect throughout) 
shared with the Ambassador May 13 impressions from a 
just-completed three-week tour of Iraq.  The images he 
conveyed -- full flights into and out of Baghdad, markets 
better stocked with products than before, huge, 
recently-completed ornate Mosques, and the self-assured words 
of Tariq Aziz and other GOI officials -- are of a 
self-confident regime that believes it can withstand any 
potential U.S. attack short of a full-scale ground invasion. 
Baghdad, he noted, was full of European and other 
international "solidarity activists" who had come to Iraq to 
take part in Saddam's 65th Birthday celebrations.  He 
observed that the GOI no longer looks to the international 
media to generate public pressure to stop any U.S. action. 
Instead, its active -- and in its own view successful -- 
courting of its Arab neighbors and European NGOs is building 
opposition to any U.S. action.  He also noted that Uday 
apparently has recently become a Shi'a, and has taken to 
writing long tracts in his newspaper Babel on the virtues of 
the Shi'a sect.  Whether this indicates a change in his 
notoriously libertine lifestyle remains to be seen. End 
Summary. 
 
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Full Planes, Busy Markets, New Mosques, and Plenty 
of Interested International Businesspeople 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
2. (S) Arnett observed that throughout his trip, it was clear 
that Iraq is much more prosperous now than it has been at any 
time since Desert Storm.  He flew into and out of Baghdad 
from Amman, and also flew internally from Baghdad to Mosul in 
the north and to Basra in the south.  All the flights, he 
noted, were filled with businesspeople, Iraqi families, and 
large numbers of Shi'a pilgrims from other countries.  The 
Iraqi planes on the internal flights were all in good repair, 
and Saddam International Airport was "spic and span, 
well-maintained, and bustling with flights to and from 
everywhere."  He said he saw similar levels of activity at 
Baghdad's bus terminals, with new buses departing regularly 
for destinations all over the country. 
 
3. (S) A visit to Saddam City in Baghdad (which Arnett views 
as a bellwether neighborhood) revealed that the quantity and 
variety of goods found in working class markets have greatly 
improved.  The expanded availability of goods is not limited 
to upper class neighborhoods like Mansour, he said, but 
clearly extends to other levels of society as well.  (Note: 
UN officials he met said that supplies of medicines obtained 
under O-F-F are, for the most part, meeting overall needs. 
That said, the officials noted that there have been problems 
importing some specialized medicines due to sanctions 
restrictions on potential dual-use items.)  He also recounted 
visiting an Iraqi family he has known for more than 10 years, 
noting how their economic situation had improved 
significantly.  The father is now making relatively good 
money as a driver on the trade routes back and forth to 
Syria.  Quite striking, as well, were the huge and ornate new 
mosques that had been completed or are still under 
construction in various parts of Baghdad.  Many Iraqis appear 
to approve of and appreciate the new mosques, he said: "it 
gives them a place to go." 
 
4. (S) Just as striking, in his view, has been the 
proliferation of international business people in Baghdad 
compared to the numbers he had seen on previous visits.  As 
an example, he noted that delegations from both Indonesia and 
Malaysia were negotiating with the Iraqis over oil 
development projects in the Western Desert.  A senior Iraqi 
official boasted to him that Iraq would soon be shown to have 
the world's largest oil reserves.  This is, and would 
continue to be, an irresistable lure to international 
business.  Trade Minister Mohammed Salih, he noted, "made a 
big issue of saying that Iraq very much wanted to rebuild its 
trade relationship with the U.S. under the 1988 trade 
agreement" and said he regretted that politics had thus far 
prevented that from happening. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
Saddam's Birthday Bash: Organized But Genuine Enthusiasm 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
5. (S) Arnett's three-week visit coincided with Iraq's 
commemoration of Saddam's 65th Birthday.  In total he 
"endured" 22 hours of celebratory parades in Baghdad, Tikrit 
and Mosul in honor of this occasion.  While the government 
obviously instructed and organized the populace to 
participate (bussing people in, for example, and sending 
notices instructing people which event to attend), many 
Iraqis took part of their own volition.  Much of this stems 
from Saddam's emotional appeal as an Arab hero who fearlessly 
stands up to America.  Part of it is a result of the largesse 
Saddam bestows on those who are loyal.  In either case, the 
journalist noted, the enthusiasm of many Iraqis came off to 
him as genuine. 
 
6. (S) Arnett also passed on comments from Tariq Aziz that 
reflected the regime's judgement that the people's support 
is, in fact, real.  Aziz told him that the Government had 
distributed "hundreds of thousands of weapons" into the hands 
of the people.  If they were truly concerned about the 
loyalty of average Iraqis, they would never have done this. 
Americans and others "who may believe that the Iraqi 
population is seething with rage against the regime are 
sorely mistaken," Aziz said.  Aziz added: "The U.S. is 
wasting its time and money with these so-called opposition 
groups.  The relationship between the Government and the 
people is a healthy one.  We are not afraid.  We are sure of 
their patriotism."  Fondly recalling evenings spent in packed 
cafes along the waterways and marveling over the many 
positive changes in Iraq since his last visit several years 
ago, Arnett opined that as time goes by regime change will be 
more difficult, saying "each month (sees) more trade, more 
prosperity, and more solidarity." 
 
 
------------------------ 
No Relationship With UBL 
------------------------ 
 
7. (S) In the same interview, Tariq Aziz emphatically denied 
any cooperation between Iraq and "terrorists," noting that 
Palestinian "freedom fighters" fall into a different 
category.  He told Arnett that "we don't work with 
terrorists.  We don't need them.  We never recognized the 
Taliban.  The attack on the WTC was the act of a desperate 
individual.  Governments don't do things like that.  We are a 
revolutionary government power and we would have been subject 
to nuclear attack if we did such a thing." 
 
--------------------------------------- 
"International Solidarity" Activists 
More Effective Advocates than the Media 
--------------------------------------- 
 
8. (S) Saddam's birthday and the 34-nation "Baghdad 
Conference" that had also taken place drew large numbers of 
"international solidarity activists" from around the world. 
The Iraqis, Arnett noted, appear to have settled on a 
strategy of building grassroots support for Iraq in Europe 
and elsewhere by courting and (in all likelihood, he noted) 
financing these groups.  They see these organizations as 
effective pressure centers that, over time, will be able to 
affect their own governments' policies toward Iraq and erode 
support for, and participation in, any U.S.-led action.  This 
has been especially true of its efforts in Arab countries. 
He contrasted the energy and resources the GOI is devoting to 
these groups to the diminished role the Iraqis have assigned 
to the international media.  He noted, "their experience in 
1991 showed that our reporting did nothing to stop the U.S.'s 
decision to launch Desert Storm." 
 
--------------------------------- 
A New, More Pious and Shi'a Uday? 
--------------------------------- 
 
9. (S)  One curiosity Arnett remarked on was Uday's recent 
public conversion to Shi'a Islam.  Uday has been utilizing 
his newspaper "Babel" to pontificate on the virtues of Shi'a 
Islam.  This development has not gone unnoticed among Iraqi 
Shi'a.  What it ultimately portends, how most Iraqis view it, 
and whether Uday has permanently forsaken his previously 
notorious libertine lifestyle, Arnett jokingly remarked, 
remain to be seen. 
Gnehm 

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