The three or four beige phones kept ringing, and the handful of employees at the Iraqi Embassy here took turns answering them. People call all the time now, and that, said one diplomat, has made them "good listeners."
Some ask for peace, some back Iraq's position, others call in support of President Bush. There are unfriendly callers and there are those who ask for "the history of the issue," said the diplomat, diplomatically.
With prospects for peace dimmer, these direct pleas to the Iraqi Embassy, an elegant brick building just off Dupont Circle NW, have taken on a new sense of urgency.
Mitzi Perdue, wife of Maryland poultry magnate Frank Perdue, dropped by yesterday to give the Iraqi ambassador a list of 30 women's and youth groups asking Saddam Hussein to end the Persian Gulf standoff.
Since late November, Mitzi Perdue has helped organize a worldwide letter-writing campaign telling Saddam that if he averts war, he could remain in history as "the first leader to listen to the pleas of women and children." The campaign is being spearheaded by the General Federation of Women's Clubs.
Accompanied by Carolyn Stegman, a Salisbury State University professor, Perdue strode into the embassy's foyer and was met by an assistant to the ambassador, a woman who identified herself as Ghada. The assistant politely accepted a notebook of sample letters before sitting down to chat with the two Americans.
"You may have seen my husband on television. He manufactures chicken," Perdue said. But Ghada had not heard of Frank Perdue.
She later told them that the deputy ambassador "would rather such a letter be addressed to President Bush, because as far as Iraq is concerned, we are not the ones who are declaring war."
Earlier yesterday, two members of the Black Communication Information Center, a Boston-based group opposed to black people serving -- and perhaps dying -- in a conflict with Iraq, spent about an hour with the embassy's deputy chief of mission, Khalid J. Shewayish.
The two, Sadiki Kambon and Chuck Turner, asked for the meeting and later said they came away convinced that the crisis requires a pan-Arab solution embracing the Palestinians. They were told a mission to Iraq by black Americans would be welcomed as "brothers."
A week ago, five members of the American Agriculture Movement, a farm group, were invited to meet with Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Sadiq Al-Mashat. That meeting followed one in November between the ambassador and two group members who accepted plane tickets from the Iraqis and were flown from Colorado.
An Iraqi diplomat, who asked that his name not be used, denied that there was a concerted effort to appeal directly to Americans. He said the policy is simply to listen to those who call and, when possible, to those who drop by for an audience.
Access to the embassy still is easy. Outwardly, at least, there is no evidence that the worsening crisis has led to tighter security.
The State Department ordered the expulsion of 23 Iraqi diplomats and 66 dependents in August. Currently, the department said, nine Iraqi diplomats and five staff people remain. Their plans are unclear -- whether, for example, they will follow the example of U.S. diplomats who are expected to leave the embassy in Baghdad tomorrow.
But events of the week, monitored on C-SPAN television yesterday, appear to have taken their toll on at least this one Iraqi diplomat. Cautioning that he spoke only for himself, he said, "I'm always optimistic, but this time I think I may be too optimistic. I think the region is headed for war."