A standard feature of the evening television news program here these days is footage on crowds lining up to hand over their gold rings, bracelets, necklaces, coins, cash and bullion to help pay for Iraq's long-running war with Iran.
Several times each week, as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein receives some donors at his palace, he especially praises the women. "Great Iraqi women, what can I say to you? After three years of offering your beloved, you have come now to offer your gold jewelry for the battles."
For an Arab woman, gold is a symbol of her husband's esteem and her insurance policy in the event of his death. The indications are that these treasures have not always been given up all that willingly. Uniformed soldiers have been soliciting door to door, and operatives in the ruling Baath Party have been putting pressure on people to contribute, diplomats and western businessmen here say.
At any rate, the two-month-old campaign will not make much of a dent in Iraq's staggering war bill--estimated by bankers and diplomats as being at least $1 billion a month. Government spokesmen estimate that the drive has raised more than 30 tons of gold and millions in dinars, Iraq's war-battered currency.
Like two punch-drunk fighters, Iran and Iraq have been battering each other for more than 34 months, neither able to inflict a decisive military defeat. The irony of the war is that ultimately victory may not be won on the battleground but come when one is able to wreck the other's economy.
Iraq's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, calls it a "war of economic attrition."
Deputy Prime Minister Taha Yassin Ramadan has called the donations a "referendum" on the government, which Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has demanded be overthrown as part of his steep price for ending the war.
The belief here, however, is that the gold campaign is intended by Saddam Hussein to get the Iraqis accustomed to financial sacrifices, to prepare them for uncertain, lean times ahead as the war sputters on into the unforeseeable future.
Iraqis already are feeling the effects of the economically draining war. As Iraq attempts to stem the flow of hard currency by reducing imports, and as the socialist state comes face to face with the new problem of paying its bills, there are widespread shortages in luxury items and staple goods. Milk, butter, flour, catsup, auto spare parts, beer and cigarettes are all extremely difficult to find.
Americans who remember long gas lines during the 1970s might find special irony in the fact that Iraqis wait an hour or more in service station lines for gasoline and motor oil these days, apparently because of war damage to refining installations and distribution problems. A sign of disquiet is the fact that the stations are guarded by armed soldiers.
Other indications of the financial stress are restrictions on travel to stem the outflow of currency. Also, some newly completed hospitals here have run out of capital funds, and government officials are stripping old hospitals of their equipment and installing it in new ones.
New housing and development projects stand half completed. The official explanation is that work has slowed on them. But foreign reporters who passed by often during a 10-day visit observed only a handful of construction workers on a few of them, and no activity on the rest.
The long war is thought to have eaten up most of the huge financial reserves Iraq had built up, and it has led to reductions in oil production to about one-fifth of what it had been, although Iraqis believe their oil reserves rival those of Saudi Arabia. But getting it out to market is the problem. Iraq's gulf oil terminal was destroyed at the beginning of the war. A year later, Iran's ally Syria dealt Iraq another devastating blow when it closed one of Iraq's two vital pipelines to the Mediterranean.
Khomeini has rebuffed all initiatives to end the war or to lessen its economic impact, and Iraqis have begun to resign themselves to the possibility that the battles may not end until he dies. Meanwhile, as Iraqis closely follow the jockeying in Iran over who will be his successor, there is fear that it may be someone even more militant.
A strong appeal to nationalism at the war's outset in September 1980 appeared aimed at countering Iranian attempts to influence Shiite Moslems in Iraq, about half the population, to embrace Khomeini's brand of Islamic fundamentalism.
In the conduct of the war, Saddam Hussein brashly pursued a guns-and-butter policy, ignoring the counsel of his French and Soviet allies.
The surface indications a visitor sees are that Iraqis have enjoyed the benefits of their oil windfall-- the generous policies of a socialist regime that has not discouraged consumption but rather hailed it as a natural "outcome of economic prosperity."
At one of the state-run shopping centers here last week, the longest lines and the most vigorous jostling were at the toy and cosmetics counters.
There are numerous nightclubs here, making Baghdad something of a playland for Kuwaitis and Saudis who come here to gamble, drink liquor and enjoy the company of Iraq's liberated women.
The government has placed strong emphasis on women's rights, and the cause has been aided further as the war has called more and more men to the front, leaving positions in factories and ministries open that are filled by women.
In Baghdad and in the southern, predominantly Shiite Moslem city of Amara, one sees many women wearing the traditional chador. But very often the garments hang open in the front, revealing brightly patterned western dresses.
Analysts here believe that Saddam Hussein is aided in guiding the country toward a new era of austerity by the fact that most Iraqis seem to believe he has tried sincerely to end the war and because they find Khomeini's demand that Iraq abandon its secularism and become a fundamentalist religious state even more distasteful than their present plight.
His other protection is that by skillfully using the media, he has projected an overwhelming image of himself and not allowed any rivals to emerge.
It is scarcely possible to walk the streets here for more than 20 feet without encountering a photograph or larger-than-life poster of Saddam Hussein--in military uniform, in Savile Row suit or in traditional Arab dress. Children's silvery balloons bear his image. At a fashion show earlier this year put on by the state-run garment industry, one model in a long, filmy evening dress stretched out her arms when she reached center stage to show an emblazoned portrait of Saddam Hussein on the dress with eyes that blinked.
At least half of every evening news show is taken up with film of Saddam Hussein--greeting gold donors, grimly surveying battle sites or receiving foreign visitors.
Significantly, when the surface calm was punctured here in the spring and dissidents struck out against the regime, one of their targets was the government-controlled television station here.
The car bombing of the television station and simultaneously the Air Force headquarters came in April, a few days after the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
Last August there were two other bombings at the Ministry of Planning and at the state-run Iraqi News Agency.
The suspicion here is that they were all the work of Shiite Moslem dissident followers of Khomeini. After the bombings, Iraqi authorities arrested 709 relatives of a prominent Shiite Moslem clergyman who leads an organization committed to bringing down the government and establishing an Islamic state.
Foreign Minister Aziz confirmed last month that six of the dissidents were executed.
There were reports last week that dissident Shiites from Iraq's southern region and Kurdish rebels in the north fought with Iranians in the offensive last week in Iraq's mountainous north.
They are indications of a dissent inside Iraq that its large intelligence service cannot stamp out. But there are no indications that a strong figure is emerging from these movements. Nevertheless, the movements threaten to rip apart a country of vastly different terrain and ethnic groups that has been held together for centuries by strong central authority.
Diplomats here believe that in the event of that kind of fragmentation, the credible threat to Saddam Hussein's rule is in the power of the military, which has expanded and been strengthened in the months of war.
They observe that Iraq has maintained tight control of the military from Baghdad, allowing little latitude to battlefield commanders. In the opinion of military analysts here, central control has stifled creative thinking and action.