Michael Saba, the Illinois businessman who escaped from Baghdad in a taxi on Aug. 9, has formed a private relief organization called Coming Home to help the relatives of Americans trapped in Iraq and Kuwait. A number of the relatives, he says, are headed for financial problems.

Operating out of his company's office in Champaign, Saba says he and a group of volunteers have been in touch with 300 to 350 relatives and have tried to pass on to them whatever information is available about their kinfolk. He says the local phone company has given them extra lines and lent them phones. Lawyers are volunteering to help families. "Right now we are finding people who need financial help. There's an organization in London similar to ours."

Saba and his wife, Irene, own Gulf-America, an international business services company that represents clients in the Gulf and in the United States. "We have products we are introducing from the U.S. into the Gulf and we do the same with products from the Gulf into the U.S. We work with investors going both ways."

Every two years, his company sponsors a conference for business people and politicians from the Gulf states and the United States, and it was addressed in a keynote speech two years ago by former president Ford. That conference, Saba says, generated about $200 million worth of business. The next conference is scheduled in October in Bahrain. "I have a great interest in seeing the dust settle," he says. He left when he did because his wife is about to give birth.

His knowledge of the Middle East and his contacts with relatives of hostages since his return have provided him with special insights into the circumstances of the families most directly imperiled by the Iraqi invasion at this point. He describes the relatives of the detainees as "spouses of people who don't have the highest incomes. Often they are people on short contracts -- 30- and 60-day stints. Additionally, they are often women who have left most financial affairs in their husbands' hands and don't have the check-signing ability. You are not talking about a whole bunch of people who are spouses of people making $200,000 a year and who have a big nest egg."

His group wants the United States to implement the 1949 Geneva civilian convention that entitles the nation to ask the International Red Cross to go into Iraq and Kuwait to protect civilians caught in armed conflict. The convention prohibits the taking of hostages and provides for the Red Cross to register civilians caught in the middle, and to help in evacuating women, children, the disabled, sick and the elderly, Saba says. He also wants the United States to get a "protecting power" -- a third party that has diplomatic relations with Iraq -- to ensure that the detainees are protected, a role Algeria played during the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran. Initiating these steps, he says, "is a middle ground. It's apolitical, humanitarian. It's a place where we can talk. I don't see any real good communications taking place between our government and theirs. We have to look at other options than military. I hope that's not the one we use.

"All of us who were there knew that if the military option were used we were all dead. The Iraqis would take their vengeance out. The security people were treating everybody very well. It was, 'We hope we can get this done quickly.' But if a military operation takes place, those 3,000 people are dead right now. The Iraqis were polite to us, but if a lot of Iraqis got killed and they saw Western planes coming in, they would look for a scapegoat. It would be mass mayhem. There would be no controlling it.

"The jingoistic terms that are being used by the politicians comparing {Saddam} Hussein to Hitler, that he's crazy, that {President} Bush is the devil, this does no good for anybody. I personally feel Hussein is a guy in strong control in Iraq. He has tremendous influence. We better understand that and not deal with him as a guy who doesn't have all his marbles. He's very predictable."

Saba believes that Bush has taken the right steps, although he would like to see him expand his circle of advisers to include businessmen with decades of experience in the region who "would understand their culture a little better and who have regional experience in all the countries in the area."

"The people who got out were mostly the businessmen who have spent 15, 20, 25 years there and who have a combination of instinct, luck and good planning. Politicians jump off the handle. They haven't worked in a business context and made a company click in a business environment. Maybe if he talked to the guys who got out, for example. He's speaking softly and carrying the big stick. I just don't want him to use it. I want to be part of opening some options."