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Iraq: Rumors Of Attacks Keep Many In Baghdad At Home

On 1 November, the streets of Baghdad were emptier than usual and a nervous atmosphere hung over the city. Many schools and universities stayed closed, and security was tighter. This was all because of rumors of terrorist attacks during the weekend, which have kept many people home.

Baghdad, 3 November 2003 (RFE/RL) � On 1 November, Baghdad was quieter than usual. Many schools were empty and there were fewer cars on normally busy streets.

The reason? Rumors spurred by leaflets reportedly distributed in the city calling for "days of resistance" on 1-2 November to protest against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The leaflets also supposedly call for a three-day general strike.

Few Iraqis say they have actually seen the leaflets, and the source of the rumors is unclear.

But the U.S. consular office in Baghdad on 31 October cited the possibility of attacks in the country last weekend, which marks six months since the U.S. declared major combat over.

Iraqi police Captain Firas Fawaz Jowad is in charge of guarding Al-Rafadin Bank. He says the bank took additional security measures and the police had received some information about possible bombings. He declined to disclose the sources of the information but said that the police receive details about possible threats almost every day.

He dismissed most of the rumors about attacks last weekend as little more than street gossip. But he said recent deadly attacks like last week's suicide bombings at the office of the International Red Cross and several police stations have understandably made people nervous.

"Don't forget that our people are able to absorb any rumor, to believe in anything, in any word. The circumstances that [Iraqis] are in make people afraid, because four, five days ago there were explosions here and there," Jowad said.

On 1 November, the streets of Baghdad were unusually quiet, with no reports of bombings or attacks on U.S. troops.

Not all Baghdadis were afraid to go out. There were a dozen customers at the Al-Rafadin Bank, and numerous Baghdad University students turned out for classes. By midday, however, many of the students returned home, because the majority of professors chose not to go to work.

Besma, an Iraqi student, studies Arabic at Baghdad University. By 11 a.m. she was already heading home. "Half of the [teachers] were present, not all of them. They are taking precautions because of the threats; universities and most government offices received the threats that they would be bombed," Besma said. "I am one of those students who wanted to come although my parents advised me not to, but I told them I'll go and see. I came and thank God nothing happened."

The Baghdad University campus was hit by RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) three days ago. Besma said she hopes that if nothing happens, the majority of professors and students will be back the next day.

The Shahid Kamel Shibib Primary School in Al-Jamya district of Baghdad was not functioning on 1 November because parents had chosen to keep their children at home. However, the teachers were on the premises and ready to begin lessons if any pupils turned up.

Ekbal, the school's deputy principal, told RFE/RL that she has not seen the leaflets and had only heard about the threats. "It's rumors, rumors. There were leaflets saying that schools would be targeted. There were these kind of threats. But thank God, we [teachers] are present at schools," Ekbal said.

Later on 1 November, Iraq's U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, was asked at a press conference about the rumors of attacks and how they had emptied the streets.

Bremer said he had a different impression of the day's events. "My understanding is there was a drop-off in schools but there was no general strike and business was very active as usual in the city," he said.