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Strange Days in Baghdad

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On Fridays, Iraqis throng Baghdad’s live-animal market, where Nora Shahab, 12, sells poultry at her aunt Rahab Mohammed’s crowded stall. “The world would be a better place if there were more chickens,” says Mohammed, 34, “and fewer politicians.”


The name is suspiciously familiar, but this popular Baghdad establishment, which serves American-style pizza as well as traditional Arab fare, has no connection to a certain U.S. chain. “Life is going smoothly,” says car dealer Kareem Muhdi, 41, who is a regular customer along with wife Shaima, 23, and daughter Noor, 8 months. “We are hearing news about a possible war against Iraq, but we work on the principle that the U.S. is trying to weaken us psychologically—it is not having an effect.” Says restaurant worker Hussein Al-Khaisi, 32 (not pictured): “If Americans want to come, they are more than welcome to eat at Pizza Hot. But only if they come in peace.”


“If you ask me what I missed growing up, I would need a long list,” says Manal Nima’t, 23, a graduate student, with little sister Zahraa, 6, of the hardships her family has faced since the 1991 Gulf War. “Sometimes I can’t sleep at night because I think it will be my last breath,” says Manal. “We don’t know what tomorrow brings.”


“War won’t stop women wanting to look good,” says owner Oum Ali, 36. For clients such as Eman Mohammed, 34, who get their hair done for under $1, the pampering is an escape. “Women in America will read this while they are at the beauty parlor too,” says Mohammed. “We can ask God for a simple role: for women to help stop this war.”


Even in grim times, thousands of Iraqi men turn out to watch horse races three times a week at this Baghdad track. “I remember as a small boy imagining myself at the Kentucky Derby, winning in front of all those cheering fans,” says jockey Majed Mushrif, 33, with a wry laugh. “Not now.”

RETA ILIUS, STOCK TRADER: With journalists flocking in, “hotels are the big buy today. A lot of investors are interested.”

YASSIN ABBAS, TAXI DRIVER: Told Americans are stocking up on war supplies, he’s amused: “It’s a joke! I can’t believe it!”

BASEM KHALAF, ANTIQUE DEALER: “It’s sad what I sell. It is the history of the Iraqi people and how wealthy they were.”

JIHAD KHADHAM, GOLDFISH SELLER: “We don’t talk about war. We’re used to living with American bombs.”

Pete Norman in Baghdad