Baffled Iraqis Adjust to a Sad, New Reality

THE streets of Baghdad are crowded. Children are preparing to go to school next week. Electricity has been partially restored for the first time in seven weeks. Though the city is coming back to life, Iraqis are still uncertain about their future and that of their country.

Relief over the end of the war is still tinged with sadness. The destruction is over - so Iraqis say or at least hope. Many are happy that their sons have returned from the front. Others are still waiting for their loved ones.

At the beginning, the Iraqis celebrated the cease-fire. They did not want war. They wanted a new beginning. Now, however, they are coming to grips with the loss of many sons and the difficult task of rebuilding a country that remains practically isolated.

The leadership, meanwhile, has maintained an uncharacteristic silence. There have been no political communiqu'es to counter the United States and coalition statements since last Thursday.

Instead, Iraq's leaders are giving their top priority to restoring normal life. Officials say that, by securing basic services and allowing people to resume normal life, people will be able to think about how to rebuild their country.

Some Iraqis fear the coalition partners - including Arab governments - will seize the opportunity to fragment their country. One newspaper warned of attempts to destroy Iraq's social cohesion and national unity. ``The enemy has not dropped its guns. It has not given up its goals. We have to keep our eyes open,'' it said.

In Baghdad's neighborhoods, people are trying to bury their sorrow and rebuild their lives. People in the poor alleys of one neighborhood mourn their dead and slaughter sheep to celebrate the return of those who survived.

``I could not believe my eyes when I saw Omar standing near the door when I came back from my early shopping,'' said his mother in tears. Omar's cousin returned in a flag-draped coffin.

Iraqis say that they are baffled. They need time to reflect on what happened. Radio Baghdad is telling the people, not that Iraq won the military battle, but that ``Iraq has emerged victorious because it stood for the right - because it confronted 32 armies.''

Baghdad Radio reads messages from Arab political groups expressing support for Iraq. People believe the messages, but are very skeptical about their significance at this stage. Iraqis say they feel isolated from the Arab world and are questioning everything. Reference to pan-Arab nationalism brings bitter smiles.

``We have always thought that we have defended Arab rights. We should learn a lesson from this war,'' says a young Iraqi, who said he had believed in Arab nationalism.

Some worry about the future of the Arab world. ``What will happen to the Palestinians now?'' asked Jassim, a soldier returned from the front. Others say Iraq should not be responsible for Arab rights. The atmosphere is emotionally charged, and officials admit the government is racing against time.

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