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Nic Robertson: Baghdad shops shuttered, people leaving

CNN correspondent Nic Robertson in Baghdad, Iraq
CNN correspondent Nic Robertson in Baghdad, Iraq

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(CNN) -- President Bush Monday night gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Baghdad or face an attack led by the United States. Tuesday, Iraqi leaders said only they would determine their country's fate and leadership.

CNN correspondent Nic Robertson remains in Baghdad, Iraq's capital, and discussed Iraq's response Tuesday with CNN anchor Paula Zahn. Below is a partial transcript of that conversation.

ZAHN: Nick, I understand now there is an official reaction from the Iraqi government. What have you heard?

ROBERTSON: That reaction is coming from a meeting between President Saddam Hussein and the meeting of the top leaders of the Revolutionary Command Council and the ruling Baath party here describing Bush's ultimatum as reckless and denouncing it. They also said that President Bush [could not] take over Iraq without having to fight for it.

The ruling party said that only Iraq could determine Iraq's future. This is the first time we've heard an announcement from the government to President Bush's deadline. Also, we have heard from President Saddam Hussein's eldest son, Uday Hussein, who says it is President Bush and his family that should leave office and anyone who attacked Iraq would certainly regret ever doing so.

ZAHN: Nic, what other signs do you see that the Iraqi population is getting ready for the prospect of war?

ROBERTSON: We see a lot of signs here, Paula. We see for example, there are fewer cars on the streets. We see cars going by that are packed full of people and possessions, apparently leaving the city. People here seem in a far more somber and serious mood. When one walks around the street, instead of the customary smiles, people look a lot firmer, particularly it seems, to me, at least toward Western reporters or foreigners.

Also, when you look around shops in the city, most are already closed. Most are locked up. Shutters are down. And people say that the store keepers have taken all their goods away.

ZAHN: Nic, for those who can afford to get out of Baghdad, where are they heading where they think they'll be safe?

ROBERTSON: Some will go to the countryside. Five million people live in Baghdad. Many have roots with family in the countryside. Many will leave back to tribal villages. If people have more money they have been trying to leave the country. Many of the rich try to send families to Syria to sit out the war.

The vast majority of people are still in Baghdad. They are extremely worried about what's going to happen and not just about the bombing. They know that is a very big threat, but they are worried about the possibility of chaos, the possibility of civil disorder. They really don't know what's going to happen, and they're extremely concerned at this time.

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