AMMAN, JORDAN, FEB. 14 -- Day after day, allied air strikes push Iraq deeper into the past, an era without electricity, telephones, cars, running water, heated homes.
Day after day, the one government radio that has escaped destruction broadcasts messages of defiance and promises that the "infidel aggressors" will drown in their own blood.
Day after day, there is more fear in Iraq. Even before allied bombs smashed into a packed Baghdad underground bunker Wednesday and killed scores of people, many citizens felt their ancient capital was defenseless against attack by U.S.-led forces.
Since early this month, air-raid sirens have been out of step with air attacks, evidence that the capital's early warning radar system has been destroyed. More often than not, attacks start after the all-clear has sounded.
Day after day, as one of the few remaining diplomats still in Baghdad put it, "the emperor is losing a piece of clothing" in the eyes of some of his subjects.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein promised to turn his country into a shining example of progress in the Third World and Iraqis took pride in their six-lane superhighways, universities, shopping centers, modern government buildings and hotels built with Iraq's oil wealth.
Despite eight years of war with Iran, which killed or wounded an estimated 1 million people and drained the country's coffers between 1980 and 1988, many Iraqis believed their country had a bright future.
In the four hours before dawn Jan. 17, those hopes were shattered. By the time Baghdad's citizens emerged from their air-raid shelters, in dazed disbelief at the scale of the attack, Iraq had virtually ceased to exist as a modern state.
The lights went out minutes after the first missile slammed into the capital's main power plant. The telephones went dead all over the country. Water stopped running. Toilets ceased flushing.
As a businessman in the southern city of Diwaniyeh put it: "The Americans inflicted more damage on our country in two hours than the Iranians did in eight years. Where will it end?"
Because of the fear that many Iraqis have of Saddam and his government, it has been difficult to assess how the Iraqi people have viewed the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait and the crisis it precipitated.
But during a week of travel throughout Iraq this month, correspondents including this reporter heard one persistent message, although it was often conveyed between the lines: This is not a popular war there and a fast-growing number of Iraqis resent the gap between reality and government statements that exude confidence and defiance.
On several occasions, residents of bombed-out sites paraphrased government statements and added sarcastic riders in discussions with reporters, the first group to be readmitted to the country since all but one Western reporter were asked to leave Jan. 20.
For example: "We will liberate Palestine. Then we will chase all corrupt rulers from the Arab lands. Next step: the liberation of all mankind from American and Zionist domination." The qualifying footnote: "Too bad we have to do all this while we shiver in our homes, without heating, by the light of candles and afraid of American bombs."
As early as the second day of the war, there were indications that -- at least until the strike on the underground bunker -- Iraqis seemed to be violating the conventional wisdom that a people under enemy bombardment rallies behind its leaders.
One such scene occurred in an air-raid shelter of the Rashid Hotel, where a quartet of pilots in flight suits appeared on the television screen singing patriotic songs. Those inside the bunker, while deep enough to block out the crash of high explosives outside, could still feel the ground under them move as in a small earthquake.
Suddenly, the program was interrupted and Saddam began to address his nation. But in a room packed with about 150 people, including government employees with their families, no one paid attention to the presidential address -- unusual in a country that has revolved around one man for more than a decade.
Two nights earlier, before the war began, a TV appearance by Saddam attracted late-night strollers on Baghdad's Saadoun Street into a kebab restaurant. Clients cheered when Saddam, in a conversation with Iraqi journalists, declared Iraq would never give up Kuwait and never bow to foreign threats. "We are with you, O Saddam," several of the diners shouted.
Those were the days when Iraq still had television and many Iraqis were confident that the United States, described by their leaders as a country that lacked resolve, would not go to war against them. But now, with their country crumbling before their eyes, Iraqis rarely volunteer enthusiastic statements in support of keeping Kuwait at all costs.
Whether the U.S. attack on the bunker in Baghdad's Amiriya district will change the popular mood remains to be seen. In the absence of television -- which went off the air in early February -- the images of charred bodies seen in the West cannot be seen in Iraq.
Furthermore, even before the attack, Iraqis were sending another message in interviews with reporters: They are angry with the United States for destroying the country's infrastructure and inflicting hardship on the entire population of 17 million instead of fighting the army occupying Kuwait.
One outcome of Wednesday's attack on the shelter is certain to be more fear. "There is no safe place in Iraq. No place to run," said Hadi Sultan, a 56-year-old resident of Baghdad.
Sultan took his family to their country home in the southern town of Hilla to escape bombing in the capital. The town was bombed a day after they arrived; his villa was destroyed.
In Baghdad, a family of five burned to death in their home in an attack two hours after they returned from the north, thinking raids on the capital had abated.
Correspondents taken on government-organized tours to view civilian damage heard similar stories from Iraqis who had gone to the Kurdish north or sought safe haven in Najaf and Karbala, site of holy shrines of Islam's Shiite sect.
But perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the government-organized tours was what Iraqis left unsaid. Kuwait was rarely a topic. The Palestinians, on whose behalf Saddam now says he is fighting the United States and its allies, were not mentioned. And only on one occasion was there any mention of Saddam.
"We are all behind our great leader Saddam Hussein," said Iman Shaker, a 25-year-old teacher in a village south of Baghdad where allied bombs had gouged craters 50 yards across and 13 yards deep into a residential area. "Everybody loves Saddam Hussein."
But on a wall in Baghdad's Karrada area, there was evidence to the contrary. The wall had been recently repainted but the faint outlines of dark paint was still visible: "Yazqot Saddam," it said. "Down with Saddam."
According to travelers arriving in Amman from Baghdad, anti-government graffiti has also appeared in the Kaddimiyeh district. It takes a brave and very angry person to paint such messages; under Iraqi law, a long list of political crimes, including sedition, are punishable by death.
What came across repeatedly in conversations with Iraqis is the belief that Saddam gambled and lost in defying the United States and its European and Arab allies in the anti-Iraq alliance.
As their country crumbles back into the 19th century before their eyes, many Iraqis appear convinced that their president will never give up and will fight to the bitter end, no matter the consequences. "It is not in his nature to bow," said a 25-year-old student in Diwaniyeh.
Although there are unmistakable signs of disenchantment with the war among civilians, reporters have no way of assessing military morale. One of the world's most politicized armed forces, the professional core of the army is led by officers fiercely loyal to Saddam.
What Iraqi civilians and the military appear to have in common is a firm belief that the war aims of the United States have changed from driving Iraq out of Kuwait to destroying Iraq and its government.
"This has nothing to do with Kuwait," said Hassan Bayati, a retired teacher. "The target now is the regime and the president himself. This is what I believe, this is what most people now believe."
Many Iraqis are convinced that the allies have been trying to destroy every palace, home and mansion of the president and his family in the capital, northern mountain resorts, on the shore of the Habbaniyah lake and Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.
There is no way of verifying such assertions but at least one missile appears to have missed narrowly: Correspondents were taken to the blackened ruins of a house near the U.S. Embassy. According to a diplomat, the missile appeared to have been aimed at the house of Saddam's second son, Qusai, and overshot it by 50 yards.