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Baghdad Life Continues Amid Talk of War - 2002-09-17

Iraq's announcement that it will allow U.N. weapons inspectors to return has done little to slow the talk of possible war. The United States and other western countries say they will seek U.N. approval for an attack if the inspections do not go forward freely. Such talk in recent weeks has had some impact on daily life in Iraq, but some aspects of Baghdad are quite normal.

In a small souvenir shop in central Baghdad, Mohammed Karim says business is brisker than ever. Iranian tourists are arriving in droves, he says, and many stop at his shop, which specializes in worry beads.

Like many Iraqis interviewed here, Mr. Karim says the threat of war makes no difference to his business, and he says he is not afraid of war.

Mr. Karim says he fought in the 1991 Gulf War against the United States and its allies, and that he is ready to fight again. The shopkeeper is speaking in the presence of an Iraqi government official who is present throughout each interview.

Working in the shop next door is Vedat Sayeed, an ethnic Turcoman from the oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk. He sounds just as defiant as Mr. Karim. Mr. Sayeed says the United States wants to attack Iraq so that it can gain control of its oil.

Most Iraqis speak glowingly of their leader Saddam Hussein. It is hard to tell how much of their praise is intended to satisfy the Iraqi officials listening in. But their resentment toward the United States sounds real.

Majid Hussein is a doctor and one of the few Iraqis to be interviewed without an official present. He summed up the feelings of many of his compatriots.

"Very angry, very angry, very angry, very angry. We are hate, hating America," Dr. Hussein said.

Monday, the Iraqi government agreed to unconditionally readmit U.N. weapons inspectors for the first time since their withdrawal in 1998. But the United States and other western countries have reacted with skepticism, and say they will continue to pursue new resolutions in the U.N. Security Council.

Some Iraqis openly admit that they are worried about war. None wanted their views to be recorded. But as one English language teacher put it, the Iraqi people would be crazy not to feel concerned about the effects of another war on their battered economy.

Iraqi officials say plainly they are concerned that the United States will attack their country even if the inspectors' return.

Abdurrazak Al Hashimi is a prominent member of the ruling Ba'ath party. He says Iraq is preparing for war.

"We are doing whatever we can to defend Iraq," he said. "And this is why we are very sure that we will never let the Americans or nobody to achieve their objectives in Iraq, none whatsoever."

Mr. Hashimi declines to specify what sort of measures his government is taking. And there are few visible signs that Iraq is preparing for a war. There is no increase in the number of troops patrolling the streets of Baghdad, no tanks deployed outside key government buildings. And the only shots fired in the capital for now are during weddings.