BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In January 1991, fearing the impending Persian Gulf War and the prospect of American bombs falling on Iraq's capital, Saad Mohssan packed his mother and three young siblings into the family car and drove them to a relative's house 60 miles south of Baghdad.
"We were very scared," said Mohssan, 28, a smartly dressed restaurant manager. "We didn't know what war with the Americans would be like."
But with new talk that armed conflict might descend on this sweltering city, Mohssan said he has no plans for another flight. Now married and the father of a two-year-old son, he said he and his family intend to ride out a U.S. attack -- if it occurs-- in their home here.
"We are no longer afraid," he said Wednesday, while taking a break from serving lunch patrons. "We have been living with American threats since 1991. For us, this has become normal."
Mohssan's attitude, a fusion of confidence and resignation, can be easily found among Baghdad's 5 million residents as their leader, President Saddam Hussein, prepares for yet another confrontation with United States. Washington accuses Iraq of developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; Iraq denies the allegation.
During a walk Wednesday down Al-Rasheed Street, the city's main commercial thoroughfare, close to 20 ordinary residents were interviewed, with an Iraqi government official acting as interpreter, as is standard procedure for foreign journalists working here. Not one of the people interviewed talked of making special preparations to deal with a military strike.
"So, America says it wants to attack," sighed Abdul Karim Shaker, 62, a retired teacher of Arabic, as he squeezed next to five friends in a popular tea house in central Baghdad. "This is not new. American aggression is part of life."
Questions about stocking up on food and water were dismissed by several with chortles. The merchants doing the briskest business Wednesday, it seemed, were stationers, selling notebooks and other supplies to children starting the school year.
Although Iraq's refusal to re-admit U.N. weapons inspectors has sparked concern in many world capitals, there is no palpable sense of crisis here. The city's boulevards and the bridges that traverse the now-stagnant Tigris River are packed with honking cars. Markets bustle with activity, as do restaurants and cafes, where amid the clatter of plates and the smoke from water pipes, the conversation is often about things other than the prospect of war.
On a lengthy drive through Baghdad Wednesday, there was no sign of soldiers either -- only the usual contingent of traffic policemen was on the streets. No anti-aircraft guns, artillery or other weapons were to be seen, though Western military analysts outside Iraq have said that such equipment almost certainly would be concealed until fighting begins.
There is no evidence either, that Iraq is moving equipment out of factories it deems valuable, according to diplomats and other observers. For now, military preparations have been evident only on state-run television. Among the recent fare: footage of a unit of young boys called "Saddam's Cubs" drilling at a training camp.
Many of the people interviewed Wednesday brushed off the possibility of war as U.S. propaganda. They voiced optimism that opposition from Russia, China and U.S. allies in the Arab world ultimately will force the Bush administration to back down. Newspapers here have been filled with statements from world leaders opposing unilateral U.S. military action and stories about the diplomatic efforts of Iraqi government ministers.
"America has threatened to attack so many times," said Jabber Abbas, a shopkeeper who deals in imitation cologne. "We don't believe it will happen."
In fact, sometimes it does. There was the Gulf War assault, and in 1998, the United States and Britain staged four days of air strikes on Iraq, saying it was failing to cooperate with weapons inspectors.
In addition, the United States regularly fires on Iraqi air defense installations while patrolling the "no fly" zones created in the north and south after the Gulf war ended in 1991. The patrols, designed to keep Iraq's air force away from Kurdish and Shiite areas of the country, often draw Iraqi anti-aircraft fire and radar tracking, to which they respond with strikes.
Though on the surface Baghdad can seem a prosperous place, Iraq's economy as a whole is in deep trouble, with United Nations trade sanctions and the government's spending priorities helping keep things depressed. These woes may be preventing ordinary people from preparing for war, diplomats and U.N. officials said.
More than 80 percent of Iraqis depend on monthly food rations from the government, paid for by a U.N. program that allows Iraq to sell oil for humanitarian needs. "They're only getting a month's supply of food at a time," a U.N. official said. "Even if they wanted to stock up in case of a war, they couldn't."
Many foreigners living here appear as unfazed as their Iraqi neighbors. Although the Philippine foreign ministry ordered the evacuation of 118 Filipinos from Iraq Wednesday, there continues to be a steady flow of Westerners and Arab traders into the country. On Monday's flight to Baghdad from the Jordanian capital, Amman, every seat was occupied, many by businessmen coming for weeks-long trips.
The only tangible impact of the tensions, according to many people here, has been a steep drop in the value of the currency, the dinar. In August, it took 1,500 to buy a dollar. Now it takes 2,000, raising the price of imported goods. "Even the cheap medicines are becoming too expensive for us," said Atta Ahmed, a retired teacher who receives a 8,000-dinar pension every month. "Why can't the United States just leave us alone?"
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