As U.S. soldiers prepare for possible war in the Arabian desert, this western Montana community may be gaining an unlikely - and national - reputation as a center of the anti-war movement.

"Missoula is a leader," said Anita Doyle, a local peace activist at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Resource Center. "All different kinds of people feel the need to be outspoken or visible in some way."News stories focusing on peace activism in Missoula have appeared recently in the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and San Francisco Examiner.

The Examiner's story this week cited well-attended peace marches and vigils in this Rocky Mountain town of 40,000. It also mentioned the Missoula City Council's Dec. 17 resolution condemning the use of force in the Persian Gulf and three local people who plan to travel next week to an anti-war camp in the Arabian desert, near the Saudi Arabi-Iraq border.

"I've been looking at this and saying, `Hey, what can I do?' " said Todd Brandoff, a 48-year-old Vietnam War veteran and one of the three locals planning to depart for Iraq this weekend. "I've seen citizen diplomacy work."

A group recently braved chilly winds to march from the University of Montana campus to downtown Missoula for an anti-war rally. A daily noon vigil outside the Missoula County Courthouse also has been organized.

Local peace activists accepted their new-found notoriety Monday with a promise to intensify their opposition to military action in the Persian Gulf.

Doyle helped organize the vigil kept every day during the noon hour on the steps of the Missoula County Courthouse; it will continue through Jan. 15, the deadline President Bush has set for possible war.

Another group of local residents organized a torchlight New Year's Eve march up Mount Sentinel, where they formed a peace symbol on the snowy hillside. The mountain overlooks the UM campus and the city.

Yet another group worked throughout the day Monday to process the papers needed to join the international peace encampment on the Iraqi border.

Brandoff, Ray Risho and Tammara Smith plan to leave Missoula this weekend for Judayyidat, where peace workers intend to place themselves between Iraqi and American troops. Rita Sommers-Flanagan, who originally intended to join the group, will not be able to make the trip because of her teaching duties at UM.

"Missoula is a very peace-oriented town," Brandoff said. "We know about citizen diplomacy and about meeting eyeball to eyeball, person to person - not president to president. This whole movement is so incredible. I don't know what to believe sometimes."

Brandoff was among a group of Vietnam veterans who met with Soviet veterans of the war in Afghanistan two years ago.