The Shiite woman, veiled from head to toe in her black chador, pleaded with the merchant for a chocolate bar for the hungry son crying at her side.

The merchant wanted 3 dinars - about $6 - for the moldy bar. The woman offered half a dinar - $1 - "all the money I have.""Have mercy on me, my child has not eaten chocolate for three months and he won't stop crying. Please, you know what it's like when you have children," the woman wailed.

The merchant ignored her.

In Iraq, defeat has brought despair, humiliation and hunger. Despondency hangs like an invisible cloud over the capital.

The country is struggling to recover from the six-week allied bombing offensive in January and February, the lightning ground war and twin uprisings by Shiite Muslims and Kurds following the losing fight with the allies.

The country's infrastructure has been largely destroyed, either by the allies, the rebels or government forces that crushed the uprisings.

In Baghdad, the fabled city featured in the Thousand and One Nights stories, there is little electricity. Baghdadis are chopping down trees from their once-shady boulevards for fuel.

Water is scarce. Hundreds are said to be dying from drinking contaminated water from the muddy Tigris River that meanders through the capital. Waste is backed up in the ruined sewer system.

Gasoline is nearly impossible to obtain, except for members of the military and the ruling Baath Party elite. The allies estimated they knocked out 75 percent of Iraq's refining capacity of 700,000 barrels a day.

Government crews are working around the clock to restore production in the bombed oil facilities.

Many Iraqis have lost family and friends. U.S. estimates are that up to 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the gulf war. Iraqi officials have said 7,000 civilians were killed in the allied bombing.

No one knows how many people perished in the postwar rebellions. Some estimates put that toll as high as 100,000.

If those estimates are anywhere near accurate, more Iraqis have been killed since August than died in the 1980-88 war with Iran. Military casualties alone in that conflict have been estimated at around 150,000.

Iraq is friendless, a pariah among nations, and is likely to remain so while Saddam clings to power. Many Iraqis blame Saddam for their plight, but he retains support among the Sunni Muslims, 40 percent of the population, and his sprawling party apparatus.

"We want to eat, drink and live normal lives. We want more freedom too. But that doesn't mean much when we're hungry," said a young man in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, which was briefly seized by Kurdish rebels before it was recaptured in an army assault.

Two months after the war, people are only now trickling back to work as government departments start to function again.

Some shops are open, but there isn't much to sell. The 10-month-old United Nations embargo remains in force. Before it was imposed, Iraq imported 70 percent of its food.

"We can only buy food from the black market, and the dealers are merciless with the prices," said housewife Mehdia Olamy, 32, as she cooked rice in a large blackened pot for her family of six.

She said the family stocked some food before the war but had to throw out most of it when the electricity was cut and it could not be refrigerated.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and oranges, crawling with flies and insects, are the only vegetables sold.

There is very little meat, and what there is costs more than most Iraqis can pay. A dozen eggs cost $18 three months ago. Now they cost $60.