For Abdullatif Bagegni, the hostilities began three days before allied bombs fell on Iraq and Kuwait.

For the Libyan-born student, the war began Monday when a poster depicting Saddam Hussein as a rocket target was stuck to the front of the city's only mosque. Under the poster was the caption: "special delivery.""I think the crisis will increase this type of racism," said Bagegni, president of the University of Missouri's Muslim Student Association.

Bagegni, 36, who has lived in this country for 10 years, said the poster was the only recent anti-Arab action he knew of in the area. But he said he was braced for more.

Dr. Abe Hawatmeh, head of the St. Louis chapter of the National Association of Arab Americans, said he worried about the safety of the thousands of the area's Arab-Americans.

"We are extremely concerned, and we would like to emphasize the fact that Arab-Americans are also fighting with our soldiers in the Middle East and they should not be all taken as the bad guys," said Hawatmeh, who emigrated from Jordan 18 years ago.

Security at mosques across the country was increased Thursday, as Arab-Americans worried about a backlash against them in the United States and fretted about relatives in the Middle East.

The Washington-based Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee said that since the crisis began, it has tracked a rising number of hate crimes against people of Arabic descent living in the United States.

But for many Arab-Americans, their central concern was like that of other Americans: A wish that the war ends soon, bringing with it Saddam Hussein's demise.

It was afternoon Thursday when Iraqi-American Shalem Narsa opened her small Middle East bakery in Chicago. Her eyes were red; she was up all night watching news reports of the bombing.

"We give a lot of chances to Saddam," she said. "I didn't want war, but we want Saddam to get out, too."