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Iraqi public well-armed and wary

Iraqi civilians are dusting off their firearms, constructing oil-filled trenches and preparing for civil unrest.

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With a gun culture that closely resembles that of the United States, Iraq is one of the most heavily armed societies in the world. Its tradition of self-reliance and hard desert and mountain living puts it on a gun-per-person level rivaling other clan systems in Yemen or Somalia.

As US military strategists look ahead to a possible war in Iraq - and a postwar period of working with the Iraqi people to establish more representative rule - firearms loom large. What Iraqis do with those weapons if the US launches an invasion will determine success or failure for Washington. Most war plans, including a United Nations postwar contingency plan leaked in New York last week, assume a swift fall of the regime, and little Iraqi resistance.

But even as Iraq Sunday continued destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles - bringing the total to 46, more than one-third of Iraq's total Al Samoud force - Iraqis on the home front are stockpiling bullets, dusting off corroded old guns, and receiving freshly minted assault rifles from the ruling Baath Party.

"We tell the Americans: We are prepared for them," says Abdulamir Nasir al Abbudi, a dapper, older Iraqi in a jacket and tie with a white scarf. "My grandfather has a gun from 1895, and I'm going to use it to kill American soldiers. I'm keeping this gun in my hand. I also have a pistol and a Russian Kalashnikov - all Iraqis have these."

Iraqis warn that they are far from convinced that US troops will be seen as liberators, and say instead that they will resist any American occupation.

Sand-bagged positions have been popping up in downtown neighborhoods, and Western witnesses have seen trenches filled with oil on the northern edge of the city that could be set alight to block visibility and confuse oncoming forces.

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