BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The mood on the streets of Baghdad swings by the hour these days depending on who spoke last -- Saddam Hussein or George Bush.
It is tense when war seems imminent, relaxed when the prospect subsides.
Although cynical about U.S. motives, many ordinary Iraqis now consider inevitable a U.S.-led invasion to overthrow their president for allegedly retaining banned weapons.
"Our mood swings depending on the news. One day, we go to sleep relaxed on news that Iraq is cooperating and we wake up the next day with Bush saying Iraq is not complying," Majid Mohammad, a 45-year-old tailor, told Reuters.
"The statements change every hour. The situation changes every day. We have no confidence in anything any more. As if we're on a see-saw going up and down," said 39-year-old Hassan Hussein, a lecturer.
Faced with the prospect of a third war in 20 years, Iraqis, who have little say in peace or war decisions, say they are placing their fate in the hands of God. Hardship, they add, has taught them to cope with war and its consequences.
Even recent euphoria among people who genuinely believed that global anti-war protests could sway Washington and London to scrap their war plans against Iraq has all but evaporated.
Against the drumbeat of war, however, life continues normally. Children go to school, workers work and housewives shop at the market.
Baghdad's streets bustle with traffic, galleries display art and cafes are packed with people playing backgammon and smoking water pipes, listening to the late Um Kulthum, the Arab world's most famous diva, a world away from war and politics.
BATTLE FOR BAGHDAD
But if and when war does flare up, the scenario for the battle of Baghdad is on everyone's mind.
Iraqis talk of a war similar to 1991 -- massive air bombardment that would target government symbols, ministry buildings, communication centers, palaces and military installations, followed by an invasion.
Diplomats believe ground troops will seize the northern, southern and western borders along with oilfields and lay siege to the capital Baghdad, home to six million people.
The campaign could end with troops thrusting into Baghdad where the final and decisive battle would be fought, they say.
Iraqis are girding themselves for war. Saddam has increased food rations so people can stock up. Petrol stations and cars are being filled in case U.S. aircraft hit refineries.
Expecting power outage and gasoline shortages as in 1991, Iraqis are preparing for a pre-industrial life. They have tested their kerosene lamps, filled their water tanks and cleaned their wooden stoves to bake bread and cook food.
Impoverished by 12 years of U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Iraqis are storing food saved from monthly rations they get under a U.N. oil-for-food program. Hospitals have also made emergency plans.
On the streets, people seem split over what they most fear.
Most are worried about U.S. bombings, which in 1991 mistakenly hit a shelter, killing hundreds of civilians.
Others are terrified of the anarchy an invasion could bring with many predicting attacks against symbols of government.
There are also those concerned about in-fighting and Iraq splitting up along ethnic and religious lines -- Shi'ite in the south, Kurdish in the north and Sunni at the center.
Under all scenarios, however, Iraqis could still not fathom the idea of American troops occupying the streets of Iraq.
Many predict ominous consequences if U.S. troops become an army of occupation.
"I cannot see how American troops will be able to control Iraq," said Mohammed, a driver. "If they stay here they will be regarded as invading force."
Iraqis who dare imagine a post-Saddam era agree.
"I am for change but no people in the world accept that change comes from outside. We are people with roots and history. Don't ever believe that the people of Iraq will greet the American troops with flowers," said one resident.
"I don't want an American or any foreigner to come and rule us," said Ra'ad Kazem, 35, a banker. "To us America is an extension of Israel," said Mohammed Moheiddine, a carpenter.
As the clock ticks toward a likely war, those affiliated with the government are expected to fight invading troops for their own survival and to protect their vested interests.
But many ordinary people, who have been through 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait, are less enthusiastic about war.
They say two wars in 20 years are enough. Many even confess they have no choice in any of the decisions taken for them.
"We're tired of wars. Let's hope this will be the last in our lifetime. The Iraqi people are helpless. They are victims," said one citizen, among many who are surprisingly expressing their views in a country where dissent is fiercely suppressed.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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