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Iraqis Stock Up on Food, Gas

Nightfall approached, the military curfew drew near and Baghdad (search) residents scurried from shop to shop on one of the city's main streets to stock up on food, water and gasoline before Sunday's national election.

Umm Ahmed (search), a 33-year-old housewife, rushed to a store. Like many Iraqis, she was worried she may not be able to shop in coming days because of curfews and violence.

"I am looking for bread," she said, explaining that most of the bakeries near her house are closed.

Glancing down the street toward a bread shop where people were waiting in line, she said she had given up trying to get gas, used by residents not just for cars but to power generators during Baghdad's frequent outages.

"I am trying to make my sons used to the darkness," Ahmed said.

"I hope the coming government will be wise and will look at what people need," she said as she continued her search.

In central Baghdad, the traffic was unusually light Friday afternoon -- a few cars driving warily by the growing number of American military patrols roaming the streets.

Some supporters of the Communist Party took advantage of the presence of the American and Iraqi foot patrols to hand out fliers to passing drivers.

But large parts of the Iraqi capital appeared to be on holiday -- few pedestrians were on the sidewalks and the shops that were open lacked customers. Store owners whiled away the afternoon chatting with each other or standing in front of their shops.

For all the differences in Baghdad this historic week, one thing remained the same -- long lines of cars at gas stations. Officials blame the crunch on attacks on pipelines, ambushes of fuel convoys and a crumbling energy infrastructure.

Electricity in Baghdad also remains shaky, with multiple outages every day in some neighborhoods. The city also has struggled with water shortages in recent weeks.

The only shops with customers were grocery stores and bakeries. The latter were the busiest, some with dozens of people waiting in line.

Residents complained of high prices.

"Regrettably, some greedy merchants are making use of the exceptional circumstances to raise prices." said Ahmed al-Saadi, 30.

Near a grocery on a main street in eastern Baghdad, an elderly woman named Um Ammar said she doubted the violence would be as bad as feared and said "people are exaggerating things."

"On the contrary, I think that the polling day will be quieter than what we see every day," Ammar said.

Iraqis are used to long lines, a staple of life under Saddam Hussein. But that doesn't mean they accept them.

"For 35 years Iraqis are used to standing in lines to buy things," said a math teacher standing near a meat shop who wished to remain unidentified. He said it was "incredible" that they continue to do so today.

Many people blamed the shortages on the government; others attributed them to chaos and widespread fears.

"People are afraid that things might get worse so they resort to storing everything," said Suzan Zaid, 30, a housewife. "Violence is behind these rising prices."

Yousif Abid al-Mutabib, a 19-year-old vegetable vendor in Baghdad's central Karrada neighborhood, said his prices are higher because the vegetables were imported.

"Iraq does not have produce this year because of the war," he said.

One woman in a traditional black robe on a main street in central Baghdad, blamed the elections. "But we are hopeful," said Um Sajjad, a housewife with four children.

Others questioned the government's ability to control the violence.

"Even after the elections, whether we vote or not, the government does not seem to care," said Umm Ahmed, the woman on her way to a bakery. "With every sound of explosion, our nerves are paralyzed."

As evening approached, people headed for home. Many asked each other when the curfew began. Street lights were out due to a power outage and most of the shops were now closed.

A slim man driving a donkey cart bearing empty gas cylinders on a main street in eastern Baghdad said he was out of gas.

"I do not know why. Go and ask the government," he shouted.