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Iraqi Embargo's Unknown Victims

A politically moderate professional class is cut off from the West

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THE embargo doesn't hurt Saddam Hussein, only the people'' is the refrain of opponents to the United States policy of maintaining the United Nations embargo on Iraq. What we need to ask is who is really hurting or benefiting from the embargo, and who among these groups of victims matters.

Obviously, the Iraqi dictator enjoys luxuries regardless of sanctions, and new classes are profiting from shortages. A little-known professional class is, however, among the unknown victims of the sanctions. These women and men are considered moderates, and they are the potential builders of any friendly democracy in Iraq.

To evaluate the worth of maintaining the trade embargo on Iraq, one has to recognize the effects of the sanctions at many social and economic levels.

The economic crisis created by the embargo is so invasive that Iraqi society today is very different from what it was five years ago. A social upheaval is under way. It may not produce the military revolt Western leaders hope for. Yet the social flux can still create new and unpredictable elements that will shape the country.

For example, partnerships are emerging between wealthy farmers and smugglers profiteering from shortages. Then there is Iraq's large middle class, an educated secular community. It is in disarray. Some of its members are moving closer to the government, where they hope to secure whatever perks their loyalty can bring. Others are joining crime rings. Organized groups are emptying the nation's museums and selling their treasures abroad. Corruption in Iraq's bureaucracy is widespread. It was rare before the war.

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