BAGHDAD, IRAQ, JAN. 14 -- As the final hours passed before T esday's U.N. Security Council deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, civilians across this city purchased last-minute rations, packed suitcases and loaded cars in anticipation of bombing raids on the Iraqi capital in the days ahead.
At dusk, military traffic appeared abnormally heavy, and many civilian cars with boxes and luggage strapped to the roofs could be seen on roads leading out of the city.
East of Baghdad in Saddam City, near a highway linking the capital with Kuwait, scores of soldiers ended home leaves and hitched rides on trucks heading south to the likely war front.
The mood of impending war was reinforced as Iraq's National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution today giving President Saddam Hussein a free hand in dealing with the Persian Gulf crisis and calling for Iraq to engage in a "holy war" to defend its 5 1/2-month occupation of Kuwait.
"This is a historic showdown between the forces of good, justice and truth, led by Iraq . . . on the one side, and the forces of aggression led by the United States, which has a history of tyranny, oppression and arrogance," Iraq's speaker of parliament, Saadi Mehdi Saleh, said as he opened today's assembly session.
The National Assembly has no real authority in governing the country, and its session today appeared only to mimic the U.S. Congress's votes on Saturday authorizing President Bush to use military force to end Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
Saddam, meanwhile, ordered a redesign of the Iraqi flag to include the Arabic words Allahu akbar (God is greatest), which is the call used to summon the Moslem faithful to prayer, as well as to battle.
The language of war virtually stifled all talk in Baghdad of last-minute international initiatives aimed at averting conflict between Iraq and a U.S.-led coalition of multinational forces amassed in Saudi Arabia.
Nevertheless, Iraq's official Arabic and English-language newspapers today gave unusually prominent treatment to a weekend message broadcast by Syrian President Hafez Assad urging Saddam to defuse the gulf crisis by withdrawing from Kuwait.
The government newspaper Qadissiya printed the full text of Assad's appeal, while the English-language Baghdad Observer quoted the message at length in its lead story, half of which was devoted to Assad's appeal and half to Saddam's reply.
"President Assad urged that an Iraqi withdrawal could be a prelude to an atmosphere where all Arabs can unite in the face of all threats against Arab land, interest and dignity," the Baghdad Observer said. "He pledged to stand by Iraq if it came under attack after withdrawing from Kuwait."
Although Saddam, in his reply, urged Syria to join Iraq in its "confrontation against the forces of evil threatening the Arab world," he did not reject Assad's appeal for withdrawal outright.
"Psychologically, Saddam might be looking for an exit," said a diplomat, who remained doubtful that war could be averted at such a late date. "Iraq obviously hasn't changed its stance. It seems they're on a collision course."
The French Embassy is making plans to evacuate its diplomatic staff shortly. The Japanese Embassy plans to evacuate its diplomats Tuesday morning. Several diplomats, including those from the United States, left Baghdad over the weekend.
Saddam, who has attempted to link the resolution of the gulf crisis to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, seemed to squelch prospects of any 11th-hour peace bids early today when he said in an interview with Iraqi journalists that if the Americans "want war, no other power can stop it. A last-minute initiative is up to the Americans because they are the ones raising the slogan of war."
During a meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat today, Saddam said: "Iraq is determined and has the capability to crush aggression and defeat it. The Palestinian question is the essence of the conflict between Iraq and American aggressiveness, which seeks hegemony on the region and the world."
Arafat replied, "Palestine and Iraq stand in one trench."
The increasing prospect of an attack on Baghdad by U.S. warplanes seemed to be on the minds of everyone today, although most residents of the capital did not appear to be preparing for such an event.
An Iraqi grandmother who lost two brothers and a son in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war said she was convinced war was at hand because of Saddam's determination to stay in Kuwait. "I know this man," she said. "He will not withdraw." Two of her remaining three sons were drafted into the Iraqi army after the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
Another Iraqi woman said she remains optimistic that a last-minute breakthrough will avert a war. But even if war comes, she said, she does not intend to alter her lifestyle. "Everyone talks about going to bomb shelters and leaving the city, but I'm convinced that it's out of our hands. If it's your time to go, it doesn't matter where you are."