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Supporters of Saddam call for 3-day anti-U.S. protest

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Graffiti and fliers that U.S. officials believe were generated by supporters of Saddam Hussein popped up around Baghdad on Friday, calling for a three-day strike starting Saturday to mark the beginning of an uprising against Americans.

"Nov. 1 is resistance day! No to occupation!" read some graffiti on the blue masonry wall of al Farazdak primary school. Fliers threatened that shopkeepers could be killed if they opened for business.

One flier, in Arabic, asked government employees, shopkeepers and transportation workers to stay home, warning: "Anyone who does not take this seriously will be responsible for his life and his possessions." It also told merchants not to deal in foreign goods, even though such goods were widely available under the old regime.

Rumors circulated on street corners and in mosques about a new cycle of violence that foreign terrorists were planning. On Monday, four suicide car bombs in Baghdad killed 35 people and injured more than 250.

The talk of a strike and possible attacks quickly rippled through Baghdad. Some people were spooked and planned to stay home. Others were angry or shrugged off the warnings, saying they were nothing new.

The Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, an exile group that's helping to rebuild the government, met Friday under tight security to gather citizens together to stand firm against terrorism. It invited members of all the political parties and the Governing Council, but fewer than 100 people turned out.

"We are here to gather people together to stand against terrorism, against old Baathists"—meaning members of Saddam's political party —"and whoever is supporting them. They should leave Iraq alone," said Nouri Sitto, an Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council adviser.

He didn't take the call for a national strike seriously: "They issue a lot of statements like this. This is not new."

But some residents of the capital planned to stay home Saturday, the first day of the Muslim workweek. Many planned to keep their kids out of school.

Residents of Baghdad, a city of 5.6 million, are getting fed up with the constant violence and tension. It's mostly Iraqis who are being killed.

To Ali Abod, the manager of a research facility and the father of two students at al Farazdak school, the warnings and rumors were simply outrageous.

"This is cowards' work," he said, scraping at the white spray paint on the schoolyard wall. "If they want to liberate us from occupation, why are they threatening schools? I will bring my children. I will bring my weapons. I will protect them myself.

"The terrorists are making children targets. What kind of man is he? He is no man at all."

Shamil Aziz, 52, an engineer, said his 21-year-old daughter, Nadine, would stay home from college.

"She and many, many of her friends are staying home from school. She feels it's better to play it safe," he said. "But my other daughter, Mariam, she works for The Associated Press as a translator and of course she is going to work. My wife is concerned. She is saying please don't go to work."

Even some police officers were contemplating not showing up at their posts.

"We are being killed one by one," said Officer Ahmed Mezher, 28. "We are living in fear because the terrorists are concentrating on policemen. Some men are threatening to quit because we don't have guns, cars. The Americans are not supporting us."

But at al Muthana police station, Capt. Mohammad Adnan, 31, said he didn't believe the threats.

"We have a proverb," he said. "`The barking dog never bites.'"

The rumors and warnings are intended, he said, to make people skittish, heightening the tension caused by the past week's violence. He blamed the rumors on former members of the disbanded army and Baath Party members who lost their jobs and want to punish Americans for taking them away.

"Some have guns and will shoot guns," Adnan said. "Some will shout, `Down with America.' Others will write slogans. They just want to make people confused."

Still, the officers at al Muthana station were taking no chances.

"We will be here, patrolling, watching, for the sake of the neighborhood," Adnan said. "Even if it is a false rumor we will take it seriously."

In Kadhimiya, a Shiite Muslim neighborhood where a string of gold merchants display their wares without any obvious security guards, shopkeepers were relaxed. Security is good overall in this neighborhood, they said, and they weren't worried.

"We will never close. This is ridiculous. There is no time for this (statement) to be distributed," said Ali Jawad, 30, the owner of the Gold Light jewelry store, where $600,000 worth of jewelry is on display. "Whoever wrote this is a coward. Here in Kadhimiya market, the security is very good. We are not worried. The people here know each other."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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