- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

BAGHDAD Talk of war with the United States has sent Iraq's currency plummeting and added a new urgency to military training, but most Iraqis seem too resigned to panic.

Their president, targeted by the United States, is defiant. In an open letter to his countrymen, the Arab people and "all free men in the world," Saddam Hussein said yesterday that Iraq could defeat any foe.

In Baghdad, school teacher Abdel Kareem Muhsin has just finished a weapons course and has sent his two teenage sons off for military training. Such training for civilians as young as 13 isn't new in Iraq the government program started in 1996, ostensibly as a way to keep boys off the streets during school holidays.

"I know the weapons we were trained on are not comparable with the technology of the American weapons, but we feel that we are prepared for a fair fight," Mr. Muhsin said.

In his letter, Saddam declared: "Our victory over the enemies will be achieved in the end, regardless of their types of weapons, schemes and technical capabilities."

The tension is unmistakable in Baghdad, though concrete signs of war preparations are few.

People are not streaming out of the capital as they did when it was a target more than a decade ago in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Nor has the government started dismantling important factories, as it did before a U.S.-British bombing campaign in 1998 after Iraq was accused of failing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.

During the Gulf war, Mr. Muhsin moved his family of six to Baqouba, nearly 50 miles east of Baghdad, to stay with relatives for a few weeks.

President Bush says he has not decided whether to use military force, and an international chorus is calling on the United States to exercise caution. But in Iraq, the threat of war isn't being taken lightly.

"The Americans changed their goal in their campaign against Iraq from destroying its ability to produce mass-destruction weapons to toppling President Saddam Hussein," said Ahmed Mousawi, a Baghdad University professor. "We do not know what their next goal will be."

To win international support, Iraq named Naji Sabri foreign minister in April 2001, replacing Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who was made information minister.

Mr. Sabri, a former journalist and deputy information minister, was widely viewed as having the flexibility and experience to better represent the country abroad.

He and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz have been lobbying the United Nations to resume negotiations on weapons inspectors on Iraq's terms the ending of sanctions and restoring Iraqi sovereignty over all its territory. The two have had more success in getting other countries to oppose a likely U.S. strike.

Amid the war talk, Iraq's currency, the dinar, lost strength and the government began offering dollars in August at low rates to encourage Iraqis to keep their savings in dinars.


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