Some in Baghdad struggle to keep a normal routine

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 6, 2003

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- As he's done for 20 years, Haji Taleb came to the city's Shorja market Saturday to hawk his wares -- never mind that U.S. forces have penetrated the city and black-clad members of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen militia were in the streets.

''Why shouldn't I?'' asked the smiling Taleb. ''No war will stop me from trying to earn money in an honest way.''

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Tens of thousands of residents of this ancient city are fleeing. But others, despite days of relentless bombing, no electricity and the nearness of U.S. forces, are struggling to carry on as usual.

On Saturday, with the sound of explosions ringing intermittently throughout Baghdad, Taher Al-Haddad proudly declared to a visitor that he has not closed his spice store for a single day since the war began.

''Business is not great, but I must come and see what I can taqtaq,'' said al-Haddad, using the Iraqi Arabic vernacular for ''to see if there is money to be earned.''

His shop is in the covered section of Baghdad's Shorja market, famous because one can buy anything, from television sets and stereos to clothes and kitchen utensils.

''Do you have any ground cardamon?'' asked a customer, dressed in the turban and robes of a Muslim cleric. ''No, but maybe I'll have it tomorrow,'' replied al-Haddad.

Because coalition forces entered the capital Saturday, there were not many hawkers in the Shorja market and most stores were closed for the first time since the war began March 20. A few beggars, including children as young as 5, roamed the market.

The street hawkers who did show up knew exactly what would sell: cheap Chinese-made flashlights, batteries and water containers. They did a brisk business, even though prices have doubled during the war. Curiously, a shop selling lovebirds remained open.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis, meanwhile, continued to flee Baghdad, heading to the north and northeast to escape what their leaders promise to be a street-to-street battle for the city.

The long lines of vehicles included trucks, buses, cars and pickup trucks. With them they took blankets, mattresses, stoves, food and water. The vehicles drove past several Soviet-era tanks and armored personnel carriers stationed in the north and northeastern sections of the capital.

Electricity went off in Baghdad, a metropolis of 5 million people, on Thursday evening. By Saturday, power was restored to a few areas, but most of the city remained without electricity.

The outage has meant no running water, compounding the woes of the capital and giving it the feel of a city under siege. Long lines at gasoline stations underscored the sense of crisis. Already, the city's telephones were down; the U.S.-led air campaign took out Baghdad's telephone exchanges.