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We are not scared of bombs, say Iraqis

Baghdad, Aug. 29 (Reuters): Ordinary Iraqis, wearied by years of tension, are shrugging off the latest threat of attack by high-tech US weaponry.

“We are not scared any more by American bombs,” said one Baghdad shopkeeper.

“If they start bombing, let them do so.”

The Iraqi dinar has stayed more or less stable at about 1,900 to the dollar and food prices have barely changed.

Even hospitals, which faced with similar situations in the past were instructed to prepare extra emergency wards and stock medicines to cope with bomb casualties, have received no such orders this time around.

“In 1998, well before the US and Britain started their bombing campaign we were asked to prepare an emergency ward,” a doctor at a Baghdad hospital who asked not to be named said.

“Now there are no orders of special preparations,” he said.

The US has threatened to launch military action to force a “regime change” in Iraq, accused by US President George W. Bush of being part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran and North Korea.

US vice-president Dick Cheney on Monday laid out the case for pre-emptive action against Baghdad, citing mortal danger to the US if Iraqi weapons of mass destruction fell into the hands of terrorists.

In previous confrontations with Washington such as the 1991 Gulf War and the brief US-British bombing campaign in 1998, many residents of the Iraqi capital hoarded food and searched for petrol.

Now, with President Saddam Hussein locked in a battle of nerves with Bush, there are few visible signs of panic in a city whose key installations could soon come within the bomb-sights of US warplanes.

The Iraqi government has not announced any instructions to the public on practical precautions for a possible US-led blitz on Baghdad. The only visible sign of preparation is that Iraqi television is showing some university students, factory workers and government employees undertaking military training. They have responded to a call for a part-time volunteer defence force.

Last month the television showed uniformed Cabinet ministers with assault rifles marching up and down.

“The only preparations that the government are undertaking now is trying to draw world rejection to a possible US military attack,” a university professor said. This week, Saddam sent his deputy Taha Yassin Ramadan to Damascus and Beirut to build diplomatic defences against the threat of a US attack. Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri is in China, securing Chinese opposition to an attack.

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