Why attack us? Iraqis puzzle over Washington's focus

Sunday, November 3, 2002

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Faced with U.S. threats of war, people on the drab streets of Baghdad speak of dying for Saddam Hussein -- but as a remote possibility and without much anger or emotion.

They seem more concerned about why Washington is so focused on Iraq and not on Iran or North Korea, other countries President Bush has labeled part of the "axis of evil."

"Bush, like his father, obviously has something against us Iraqis," Nawar Adnan Al Baidi said as he sipped tea at the Spinach Cafe across from Baghdad's University of Technology, where he is a student. A government minder was nearby during the interview.

"Even if it's true that Iraq developed weapons of mass destruction, so did Iran and North Korea -- and Bush is not threatening war against them," said 20-year-old Al Baidi.

"Why only us then?" he asked, offering no answer.

Officials here regularly speak of Iraqis happily standing up to American invaders and defeating them decisively. Only Friday, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said the Americans "will be sent to hell if they attack Iraq."

Growing worry

Tunai Sabah, another student, said she was ready to fight the Americans "until the last drop of blood." But then she added that she did not understand why Americans hate Iraq.

"They say they want to get rid of Saddam, but it is the ordinary people who will suffer and bleed," she said.

Privately, Iraqis speak of knots in their stomachs and growing worry for their children in case of another war.

"All we think about is one day at a time, and the priority is food for our children," said Saddam Nuri, an employee of the Iraqi state oil company, who shopped for cheap food with his family.

Asked who is to blame for the dismal life in Iraq, he stopped, pointed his finger up as if to say someone high up in the regime. But, perhaps fearful of the implications of his gesture, he said with a tinge of sarcasm: "Of course, America!"

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