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Baghdad Journal: 'Hey Mister, Wanna Buy a Country?'

With lots of debate over what kind of government would be best for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, consider the suggestion of Adnan the antiques dealer.

"Give us a king!" shouts Adnan Jawhri, a weathered but hardly defeated-looking Iraqi whose stall is the last on the right down the main path of the Al Safafir (search) market in Baghdad's run-down Old Town.

By his own unverifiable account, Adnan is 62 years old, but he might be a decade older. He claims he knew Iraq's former King Faisal II (search), who was overthrown and assassinated in 1958, 21 years before Saddam came to power.

"He was a good man, a good king," says Adnan. "He was strong and that is what Iraqis want — a strong leader."

Strong leader? Doesn't that sound like a thug named Saddam that the U.S. just dislodged?

"He wasn't strong, he was just cruel," says Adnan. "I don't care about the politics and the politicians. They're all the same. But a king — that's what we need."

If his claim is true, that would mean Adnan spent his teenage years in the presence of Faisal II, the cousin of Jordan's late King Hussein, who was executed by the Iraqi military. Whether true or not, Adnan's bubbly personality and why-speak-when-you-can-shout conversational style make him a welcome change from the normal surly lot of Baghdadis.

I met Adnan for the first time in 2002, during the last months of Saddam's demented reign. Even then, he spoke his mind, though not about the Iraqi dictator.

"Feel my biceps," he commands, then crooks his arm for inspection and awaits the inevitable compliment. Adnan is wiry, strong and tough, as well as tough-minded.

"Every night I lift weights while I pray," he boasts, then lapses into an un-asked-for and off-key chant that could be a prayer or, for all I know, a breakfast-cereal jingle.

Adnan is one of those few Iraqis who gets by on sheer verve, a joie de vivre that has served him well, but could just as easily have landed him in Saddam's archipelago of the missing, the doomed and the dead.

Adnan's antiques boutique is an eclectic holding house of time-worn treasures and outright junk. Adnan does not use persuasion to lure customers in so much as main force. His tree-trunk arms allow no polite demurrals. When he heard me speaking English last year, he decided we would be friends. My opinion was not sought.

Even in those waning days of terror, Adnan told captivating tales of his travels as a young man, to old Beirut, to Nasser's Cairo and age-old Damascus. Despite opportunities to remain abroad, he always returned to Baghdad.

"Why not?" he demanded. "It's my home more than his." 

It was not necessary for him to mention the Tikrit-born dictator by name.

In Saddam's day, he says he made $1,000 a month selling carpets, water pipes and, riskily, portraits of Faisal II. Now, he laments, "The tourists don't come anymore," and his income has been halved.

He pooh-poohs the suggestion that Westerners, and especially Americans, might find Baghdad a tad risky, what with snipers and car bombers running about.

"Why, in Allah's holy name?" Adnan howls. "You have your very own army here to protect you, just as it is protecting us."

Naiveté, or a silk trader's sarcasm? With Adnan, one never knows.

John Moody is senior vice president of Fox News.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Vatican correspondent and Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books, including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."