AULA AL-WINDAWI, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, knows exactly what to do when the first American bombs begin to rain down on Baghdad.
When we hear the first rocket, we take the mirrors from the walls and the chandeliers from the ceiling, she said quietly. Then we go into my fathers study and we dont leave.
Her fathers study is lined not just with tattered English books, but also with concrete. Here she, her two sisters, her parents and the familys two dogs, hope to survive a huge bombardment, much worse than anything they have experienced before.
Such planning has suddenly become urgent. President Saddam Hussein went on television this week to urge his people to dig bomb shelters in their gardens. People are beginning to realize that war may be only days away. Almost overnight, trepidation has descended on the city.
Cafés are still full, the souks are packed with shoppers, and wedding parties with tinny music carry on late into the night.
But there are now civil defense exercises taking place on the streets of the Iraqi capital, and uniformed men with Kalashnikovs on the corners. And in homes across the city families like Aulas are making frantic preparations.
Her father, Mouayed al-Windawi, a graduate of the University of Reading and expert on Anglo-Iraqi relations, and her mother, Ahdaf, an industrial chemist, gave me a tour of their house in the al-Adhamiya district near King Faisals grave.
They showed me two storage tanks full of water just outside the study. They opened a cupboard bursting with sacks of rice, beans, sugar, tea and soap, all supplied by the Iraqi Government.
Every ordinary Iraqi family has this, Mrs al-Windawi said. This is enough for us to live on for several months.
In the kitchen she has installed a small oil stove for cooking a few basic meals simple things that have protein and give energy.
Dr al-Windawi is digging a 100ft well that he will share with several neighbors. The water, which comes from the Tigris, will probably be used for washing and cooking. His wife has also been storing drinking water in old 7-Up bottles lined up on her kitchen shelves.
Weve been preparing for four months, he said. Were no different from any family; all Iraqis do this.
But there are many things the family cannot afford. A mid-size generator, which costs about £285, is not possible on a professors salary of a few pounds a day.
The lack of electricity is one of the familys biggest worries. Aula is a diabetic, a condition her father is convinced is a result of the bombing of December 1998. She developed it two weeks after the bombing started. She was a healthy little girl before that, he said. I am sure her body suffered too much trauma.
The insulin that she injects twice a day, which the family struggled to get supplied privately from Germany, needs to be refrigerated, and her parents have yet to work out how to get around that problem.
Until the early 1990s the family lived in Reading, and they still resemble a suburban English family. They speak impeccable English.
Aula is studying for her English examination and keeps a framed picture of the Backstreet Boys near her bed. She and her elder sister Thura, 20, sing songs they learnt from Top of the Pops, while seven-year-old Sama leafs through photograph albums of her parents on holiday in the South West of England.
Since their return to Baghdad they have known little but conflict and sanctions. But land and home are precious to Iraqis and moving is not an option.
Instead, as the dark clouds of war descend over Baghdad, there is a resigned fatalism. We know what to do now; we went through it twice before, Thura said.
Dr al-Windawi admits to feeling helpless in the face of something he cant control. I worked hard for this family, he said. I dont want to lose them in the war.
Copyright 2003 Times Newspapers Ltd