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Baghdad residents flee capital

Sales of water tanks have risen as the threat of war increases.
Sales of water tanks have risen as the threat of war increases.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Baghdad residents have started fleeing the capital as the U.S.-imposed deadline nears for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave or face war.

"There are fewer cars on the streets. We see cars going by that are packed full of people and possessions, apparently leaving the city," said CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, in Baghdad, on Wednesday.

He said the mood had become "far more somber and serious" as the threat of war nears.

"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."

Many shops had been locked, with shutters pulled down, and "people say that the store keepers have taken all their goods away."

U.S. President George W. Bush Monday night gave Saddam 48 hours to leave Baghdad or face an attack. Saddam has rejected the ultimatum, saying he has no intention of standing down. (Full story)

Robertson said many of those fleeing a possible war were heading to the countryside, as many Baghdad residents have family ties in 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."

However, the vast majority of Baghdad's five million have people remained in the city.

"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."

Meanwhile, Saddam has ordered residents to stack wood and light oil barrels in hopes of concealing targets from bombardment, The Associated Press reports.

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