Baghdad Slowly Returns to Normal
Nov. 23, 1997
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ After mobilizing for war, Iraq began adjusting to the peace Saturday with residents of the capital declaring victory in the latest diplomatic clash over U.N. weapons inspections.
Iraq has been on alert against an attack from the United States for three weeks, since Saddam Hussein ordered the expulsion of American inspectors searching Iraqi sites for weapons of mass destruction.
To prepare for war, Iraqis stockpiled cans of beans and tuna and lined up for their gasoline ration: for private cars, just 10 1/2 gallons for four days. They dismantled factories, carrying machinery to hiding places to protect it from bombing.
With the inspectors back in Baghdad, the worst of the tension seems to have passed. To be sure, U.S. forces in the region now number 30,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines after this week's emergency deployment. Six Stealth bombers are in neighboring Kuwait and the aircraft USS George Washington is patrolling the Persian Gulf. And Iraq is still on alert.
But for the moment at least, Iraqis say they are satisfied. In crowded cafes along Baghdad's main shopping thoroughfare, they drank tea, smoked cigarettes and talked mostly of one thing: relief that the conflict was over.
``I consider this the end of the embargo, and it is a diplomatic victory for Iraq,'' said Mazen Ahmed, a 28-year-old laborer.
In exchange for the inspectors' return, Russia promised to fight for the easing of sanctions on oil exports, imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The sanctions have devastated Iraq's economy, and the few Iraqis willing to speak to reporters expressed optimism that recent events mean the embargo may be over.
Anger toward the United States is still rife, with the slogan ``Down with America'' scrawled on walls, buildings and streets all over the city. Last week, the speaker of Iraq's parliament urged schoolchildren to write the slogans.
Many people are sick of having United Nations' inspectors searching Iraq's factories and warehouses for weapons and chemicals, and seeing American U-2 spy planes soaring overhead.
``They (the United Nations) are about to take the Iraqi flag down and put up their own flag instead,'' Baghdad resident Saeed Jasim said Saturday, echoing comments heard repeatedly here.
With rationing still in place, few cars were on the streets Saturday and queues were long at gas stations. The cafes were filled mainly because people aren't working, with many factories closed.
But some have been reassembled and are operating again, including the nation's biggest oil refinery, which sits in the middle of Baghdad. Like a giant candle, the main smokestack of the Douna refinery spewed flames as usual on Saturday, a message to Iraqis that the crisis perhaps was nearing an end.