February 22, 2003


Boom Before the Bombs: American ordnance may soon rain over Iraq. But prices for homes and land are going nowhere but up these days (Melinda Liu, 2/24/03, NEWSWEEK)
Iraqi real estate may sound like a terrible investment right now. Yet the market is booming in all but a few places like Safwan, on the Kuwaiti border, where people worry that the soil is dangerously contaminated with depleted-uranium ammunition from Desert Storm. "Prices have doubled in the past three months," says Adnan Abd Al-Ridh, a real-estate agent in Basra. He quit his job as a car salesman six months ago to cash in on the boom. "The prices of both land and houses are rising," says a Western diplomat in Baghdad. "People think they'll be even higher in two months." Even the fear of U.S. firepower doesn't seem to deter buyers, who may be placing their faith in America's smart bombs. "Houses are riskier than land, because of the possibility of heavy bombing," a Baghdad real-estate agent says. "But people are used to bombardment in the no-fly zones. They know that ordinary houses are not normally a target."

Few people dare to say what the market will do after the war. The prospect of regime change is a risky topic. But watch what Iraqis are doing; their optimism is unmistakable. The Baghdad stock exchange is soaring, and private construction plans are pushing ahead. Sarmad Majeed, 36, whose family runs a coffee shop overhanging the Tigris in Baghdad, says he's investing 180 million dinars in a 14,000-square-foot shopping arcade. Two months ago he paid 60 million to buy land-use rights for the project. "Six months from now it will be worth 70 million," he predicts. An older employee, Naama Isa, recalls when the shop was so quiet that water buffalo liked to hang out in the shade beneath it. Asked why the market is surging now, both men pause a bit too long and then speak a bit too quickly. "The area is a desirable one," says Isa. In the same breath, Majeed answers: "We love our country."

Senior Iraqis 'are preparing to desert Saddam' - but not just yet (Anton La Guardia, 21/02/2003, Daily Telegraph)
Senior members of the Iraqi regime are "preparing their bolt-holes" in the conviction that Saddam Hussein is doomed, but are unlikely to risk staging a coup until a war begins, Whitehall sources said yesterday.

America and Britain have long hoped that the build-up to war might break the regime without the need for military action. But at present fear of Saddam within the Iraqi government is still greater than the fear of war.

None the less British officials say they have picked up signs that "people are preparing for the day after".

One said: "They are preparing bolt-holes overseas. They are sending messages out. Most people in the regime, even those at a very high level but not including Saddam Hussein, realise that time is short.

"They are not prepared to go down with Saddam. They will try to melt away into the greater Arab world. They are preparing as far as they can for the inevitable. But they have to be very careful. If they are spotted, they will be seen by the regime as potential traitors."

Iraq deserter says military personnel eager to quit (Jonathan S. Landay, February 22, 2003, Knight Ridder Newspapers)
An Iraqi army deserter yesterday described Saddam Hussein's military as being rife with corruption, outfitted with inoperable equipment and populated by troops ready to surrender the instant that U.S. forces attack.

"The regular army won't fight and my friends are looking forward to the day the Americans begin the war so that they can surrender," said Ali Qadir Jadir, a veteran tank mechanic of the 34th Brigade of the 1st Mechanized Division who fled to the Kurdish held north of Iraq.

Ali said none of the 128 soldiers in his unit, the Qurtuba Battalion, are willing to die for Saddam. But few will risk desertion before a U.S. invasion, preferring to surrender en masse when it begins, he said.

Time to light this candle. Posted by Orrin Judd at February 22, 2003 6:42 AM
Comments for this post are closed.