Some visitors to Baghdad are surprised that life appears so normal, one would scarcely think Iraq was a country at war. But this impression of everyday normalcy seems true only of the capital city. During a month's travel through Iraq, I found that signs of the nearly six-year-old war with Iran are highly visible in other parts of the country.
Most noticeably, the vast majority of Iraqi men under 40 are in military uniform. Men in casual street attire often turn out to be soldiers on vacation. Military men are such a big proportion because, once drafted, most of them must stay in the forces for the duration of the war.
``I've been in the Army for seven years, since I graduated from college,'' said one officer. He was moonlighting as a taxi driver on his day off -- as do many Iraqi soldiers. ``I'll be there until it ends. If not . . .,'' he smiled ruefully and crossed his wrists to indicate imprisonment.
Among men not in uniform, the military look is ``in,'' with camouflage jackets worn over jeans or the traditional long white Arab dress.
Almost every building of strategic or industrial value in Iraq sports brown-and-green camouflage colors. Key installations, such as an oil refinery outside Kirkuk, are ringed by clusters of anti-aircraft positions. Two- and four-barreled Soviet-made anti-aircraft guns also surround towns and military bases, which are sometimes virtually undistinguishable from each other. In Nasiriya, one sees mainly soldiers, jeeps, and military installations surrounded by barbed wire. Many of the civilians moved to Baghdad after Iranian bombings. One Army officer claimed that the military had given camels to Bedouin nomads and encouraged them to camp along the outlying roads to preserve a look of normality.
Indeed, much of southeastern Iraq, especially the strategic Hawizeh Marsh area, has been taken over by the military. Every so often, the endless miles of reedy swamp suddenly come to life with a swarm of dinghies speeding up a lagoon in drills for marsh warfare.
Soldiers seemed to be the only Iraqis who enjoyed having their picture taken. As soon as I took a picture of one, all of the green-uniformed and bereted passerbys would grin and pose as well.
A few English-speaking officers I met in my travels brought up the topic of the war. Their attitudes about it varied widely. One lieutenant from Tikrit, the hometown of President Saddam Hussein and many of the Iraqi government's elite, sounded as devoted as his Iranian adversaries to the idea of martyrdom -- but out of patriotism rather than religious fervor.
``I'm ready to give my blood any time for the defense of Iraq,'' he said energetically. ``We've had three shahids [martyrs] in my family already. . . . But I don't mind being another, except my mother would be unhappy.''
In Nasiriya, an Army officer working as a taxi driver while on vacation, was more dispirited. ``I go to sleep with my rifle, I wake up with my rifle -- what kind of life is this?'' he asked. ``Especially since I'm not sure that the life in Iraq is good enough to die for.''
``Even if [Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini dies, the Iranians will keep fighting. Once they get an idea in their heads, nothing will stop them. I'll never forget some of the Iranian attacks. They came by the millions. We'd kill thousands, but they kept coming. . . .''
According to estimates, Iran and Iraq have lost at some 100,000 men each since the war began in September 1980; hundreds of thousands have been injured.
Another soldier-cum-taxi driver in Baghdad proved to be an anomaly in normally close-mouthed Iraq. He confessed furtively that he wanted to escape from the country to avoid returning to the front.
Civilians rarely mentioned their attitudes about the war. But one teacher of English, on the bus to a Turkoman town, explained her conflict between patriotic duty and the added burdens imposed on her: ``My husband's been at the front for five years, so I've had to work all day and also raise the children. When he comes home for vacations, he's too tired to do anything to help.
``I felt I should contribute to the war effort, too, so I volunteered to transfer to this village, since their teachers had to go to the Army. But it's very difficult, because the children speak the Turkoman language, not Arabic . . .and I have to travel an hour each way to get there. But these are sacrifices I have to make. . . .''
Another effect of the war is that most service jobs are filled by women or foreign guest workers, mainly Egyptians. A Jordanian bus company official estimates that about 2,500 Egyptians a day are transported to Baghdad from Cairo through Amman. Joked one Iraqi: ``Every 10 kilometers [6 miles] you see only one Iraqi. We are foreigners in our country these days.'' Second in series. The first article appeared May 20.