Amid chaos, Baghdad frustration rises
A new US-approved Iraqi 'mayor' and police chief are named in a bid to stop the looting in the capital.
"My house has been robbed, my city is destroyed, we have no future," Saad Salah, an Iraqi lawyer, screamed at US Marine Maj. David Cooper Sunday morning in a central square of Baghdad. "If you don't offer us security we will hate you."Skip to next paragraph
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A week after US troops entered Baghdad in force, ousting Saddam Hussein's regime, the violent looting that has gutted government offices, shops, and homes here is leaving even citizens who welcomed the Americans increasingly bitter at their failure to impose order.
If law and order aren't reestablished quickly, the risk rises that the many Iraqi factions - the Baathists or other political, ethnic, and religious groups - could step in to establish their own fiefdoms of control in Iraq.
US soldiers here understand the frustration. "I won't discount what he is saying," Major Cooper, a civil-affairs officer, said after trying to reassure Mr. Salah. "This is exactly the sort of problem we are afraid of if we don't meet his concerns."
Iraq has so far been spared the carnage of ethnic cleansing and revenge killings of former ruling Baath Party officials that some had feared. But the manner in which American soldiers have stood aside as looters empty every building they can get into has sparked fears that the prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness could degenerate into even worse violence.
US troops say they do not have enough men in the capital to keep order: that they are trained for combat, not police work, and that they are still fighting pockets of resistance, their top priority.
Sunday, an exiled Iraqi opposition leader with the Iraqi National Congress, Mohammed Mehsin, announced that he was taking charge of Baghdad, with the blessing of the US authorities. One of the Hussein regime's top police officers, Brig. Zuheir Anuaimi, was also named the new chief of the city police.
Mixed patrols of US soldiers and Iraqi policemen who are being encouraged to return to work should be on the streets by Monday, Mr. Mehsin said.
In the meantime, many Baghdadis are taking the law into their own hands, defending their property with guns the former regime gave to loyalists. The city crackles with the sound of scattered gunfire day and night as plumes of smoke rise from burning buildings.
In the wealthy district of Mansour, home to many former officials, Yarub al-Sadoon was organizing a vigilante squad Saturday. "We are all Baathists at heart," he said, interrupting a conversation to fire off a few rounds at a band of armed marauders. "None of the thieves is brave as a rule. There are aircraft above us but no one is helping us.
"What we'd really like is a deal between the American and Iraqi forces, an agreement to protect the area," he said.
An isolated deal of that sort was struck Saturday in northwest Baghdad, after heart surgeon Emad Mohamed complained to a visitor that the looters were worse than the three weeks' of bombardment that his city had suffered.
"We would love to have Saddam Hussein back," Dr. Mohamed said angrily. "He's the only one who can control these mobs. Tell that to the Americans."