War Damage Leaves Trail of Hunger, Lack, Uncertainty

ADNAN could not resume his classes in geology when Baghdad University reopened in April. ``Living in Mosul, I couldn't reach the capital. There was no gasoline, so no buses,'' he says.

This young student's difficulty mirrors that of millions of other Iraqis and stems from the Gulf war's destruction of the network of services that held this rapidly modernizing nation together.

The demolition of Iraq's infrastructure was one of the stated aims of the coalition forces' air raids in February: Bridges, electrical power stations, and telephone exchanges were bombed.

For ordinary civilians, however, destroyed infrastructure implies more than this.

To an elderly man, it means ``I can no longer take milk before sleeping as I had for 10 years.''

To Iraq's young, it can mean severe malunutrition. ``It's because of the milk that these babies face death,'' says Dr. Tariq al-Dah'iri, a pediatrician. Taking a powdered milk tin off a hospital table, he says, ``Look. `Made in Holland.' It's all from outside - France, USA, Belgium.'' With economic sanctions, Iraq can no longer import such essentials.

And to a distressed professor of archeology, it means a disruption of eight years of work: ``I could not yet go out to our excavation site, even to check if ancient buildings we uncovered were damaged by the bombing.''

The war set in motion a process of deterioration that threatens to stall Iraq's economy at all levels. If Iraq were less developed - with people living in self-sufficient villages and growing their own food - life might not have come to such a standstill. But it is a modern nation where most homes have electricity; most families have a refrigerator and TV; and every community has cars, vans, and tractors to link it to market towns and job sites.

Without gasoline, farmers cannot get produce to market; food rots in fields, while cities face shortages. They cannot can unsold produce because clean water is still at a premium.

Trees are being cut because of the fuel shortage. In one southern Iraqi town, a once-wooded playground is now an open yard of raw tree stumps.

For the population this state of affairs creates a constant sense of insecurity.

``It means hesitating before turning on a radio, to save batteries which we can no longer import,'' one Iraqi says. ``It means not hearing the telephone ring for more than three months.''

Even small-scale economic life is barely surviving. Mohammad Abdul Abbas owns a factory manufacturing inexpensive women's slippers. The factory only recently resumed operation, when electricity was restored. The supply of wood heel-forms are made in Iraq, but the bright plastic material is from Germany.

``A few square meters is all I have left,'' the young manager says. ``With imports still blocked by the trade embargo, I can't continue long.'' The shortage of these items threatens the livelihoods of Mr. Abbas and his five employees.

In addition, as most factories lie idle for want of water, electricity, and raw materials, ``the standstill also endangers machinery,'' an engineer says.

Though previously sound, the economy was highly dependent on trade. Substantial oil revenues allowed it to import unlimited quantities of materials, from chicken feed to vaccines. Over the last 40 years, it turned from a food-exporter into a nation dependent on US rice and wheat. It also committed itself to major development projects which may now have to be abandoned.

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