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Iraqis bracing for a confrontation with the U.S.

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2002

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — As the United States calls for the ouster of his president and the threat of war permeates state-run media, school teacher Abdel Kareem Muhsin has sent his two teenage sons off for military drilling.

The 50-year-old history teacher recently finished a course on using light weapons. His sons' military training is part of a 6-year-old program that was originally a way to keep teenagers off the streets and out of trouble 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," Muhsin said.

President Bush has accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of rebuilding a banned weapons program, supporting terrorism and posing such a threat that "regime change" in Iraq is critical and crucial for world harmony.

Whether Bush will use military force hasn't been said, and the United States is facing an international chorus calling for caution. 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 al-Mousawi, a Baghdad University professor. "We do not know what their next goal will be."

Iraq, in an attempt to win international support, in April 2001 named Naji Sabri foreign minister, replacing Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who was shifted to information minister.

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

Sabri and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a veteran diplomat, have been lobbying — unsuccessfully so far — 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.

Sabri and Aziz have had more success in getting other countries to oppose a possible U.S. strike.

Iraq's neighbors, in particular, fear the destabilizing effects of another war pitting the United States against Iraq.

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

The government hasn't started dismantling important factories as it did before a U.S.-British bombing campaign launched in 1998 after Iraq was accused of failing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Ordinary people are not streaming out of the capital as they did when it was a target a decade ago. Muhsin and his family of six moved to Baqouba, nearly 50 miles east of Baghdad, to stay with relatives for a few weeks during the Gulf War that forced Iraq out of Kuwait.

"All places are targets. The U.S. and Britain have bombed schools and houses in the past, what would stop them now?" Muhsin asked.

The possibility of war has also affected Iraq's currency, the dinar.

In mid-August, the dinar briefly picked up, reaching 1,550 from 1,900 to the dollar. The government had intervened, offering dollars at low rates to encourage Iraqis to keep their savings in dinars. A few days later the dollar came back even stronger, at almost 2,000 dinars.

"It is amazing, currency changes by the hour and I do not know the best way to keep my money," said Jameel Ahmed, a carpenter standing along al-Kifah Street, Baghdad's main money changing area.

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