Undated (AP) _ As Saddam Hussein, Scud missiles and Desert Storm become household phrases, Americans are devouring all the information they can find on the Middle East and on the Iraqis the U.S. troops are now at war with.

They're also snatching up American flags as if it were the Fourth of July, retailers say.

Bookstores report sales of Middle East-related books have increased, and some stores have sold out of Mideast maps.

Rand McNally spokesman Conroy Erickson says a special Middle East map created after the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is in its fifth printing.

''We haven't been able to keep it in stock at our map stores or in retail stores,'' Erickson said Monday in a telephone interview from company offices in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill.

Merchants and publishers say people are seeking all types of information about the region, especially those whose loved ones are involved in Operation Desert Storm, the allied offensive to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

''They're looking for anything that will give them factual information about what they're hearing on the news,'' said Astrid Webster of Page One bookstore in Albuquerque, N.M.

Seale Ballenger, publicist for Times Books-Random House Inc. in New York City, said a book called ''Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf'' was likely to go into its second printing. The first 425,000 copies that hit stores Oct. 15 are almost sold out, he said.

Judith Miller of the New York Times and Laurie Mylroie of Harvard University worked ''basically around the clock'' after the invasion writing the book, Ballenger said.

John Godfrey, head of information services at the Albuquerque Public Library, says he's had a steady stream of inquiries about the Iraqi leader since the war began. They're also asking about Iraq's Soviet Scud missiles, he said.

Sales of Middle East- and war-related books have been high at the 800 B. Dalton Bookseller stores nationwide and at the 50 Barnes & Noble Bookstore outlets, said Donna Passannante, spokeswoman for the two companies in New York.

''From Beirut to Jerusalem'' by Thomas L. Friedman had sold steadily since its 1989 publication. But sales jumped 50 percent since the first week of January as the United Nations deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait approached, Ms. Passannante said.

She said the Saddam Hussein book and ''Operation Desert Shield: The First 90 Days'' also have been popular. Retailers also expect new books being published about the Persian Gulf crisis to sell quickly, she said.

Sales of prophecy books related to the end of the world increased about 50 percent after the invasion of Kuwait, she said.

U.S. flag sales also have soared since the allied attack on Iraq.

The demand caused Kmart to place an early order to stock its stores with American flags nationwide, said Kevin Goodreau, merchandise assistant manager at a Kmart in Albuquerque.

Kmart usually sells flags only around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, he said.

Gary Disco, whose family owns Albuquerque-based Disco Display House Inc., says flag sales Jan. 17 and 18 were ''the highest they've ever been - higher than the Fourth of July.''