Mayhem is amok in Baghdad

Mobs: As U.S. troops moved through clearing Iraqi military forces out of the capital, looters followed in their wake.

War In Iraq

April 12, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. troops cleared wide swaths of the capital of Iraqi military forces yesterday but seemed powerless before a fresh wave of looting and mayhem that flowed in to take their place.

A week after U.S. troops entered the city for the first time, large, unbroken stretches of Baghdad's urban center, on both sides of the Tigris River, seemed free of the bands of Saddam Hussein loyalists that have been harassing U.S. forces for the past several days.

But the city was the scene of frenzied rounds of looting, with mobs setting fire to government ministries and moving for the first time to ransack private homes rather than merely the symbols of Hussein's power.

With virtually every government ministry here in flames, Baghdad and the entire country were operating essentially without a government, public services or police protection.

The Bush administration appeared to have little prepared in the way of a quick response. In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, "You cannot do everything instantaneously."

He added: "It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes."

The State Department said it would send 26 police and judicial officers to Iraq as the advance team for what might eventually be a contingent of more than 1,150 people to help restore law and order. They will be part of a group led by Jay Garner, a retired lieutenant general chosen by the Bush administration to run the initial Iraqi civil administration under U.S. occupation.

In Baghdad, military officials said that U.S. troops would try to ensure that religious centers remained open and that public services functioned.

U.S. officers said they had begun enlisting local Iraqi officials to help rebuild local police forces as fast as possible, But with hospitals being ransacked and many people still wary of coming out onto the streets, any resumption of normal life and services appeared remote.

The medical system in the capital had "virtually collapsed," the International Committee for the Red Cross said in a statement yesterday.

Workers from other experienced organizations were not prepared to cross into Iraq because the situation there is considered too dangerous.

Warehouses of medical supplies and food that were supposed to go into Iraq immediately after the military made its way to Baghdad remain stacked in Kuwait and Jordan. Fleets of trucks ready to transport the supplies stood idle.

In Baghdad, whole city blocks were descended upon by greedy mobs yesterday, and some people backed trucks into offices and department stores to fill their trunks with stolen merchandise.

Gunbattles broke out between packs of looters and people defending their property, and the city's hospitals took in more casualties from rioting and looting than from the war.

Most of Baghdad was without electricity or fresh water, and with almost every shop shuttered, residents began to worry that shortages were reaching a critical point.

The mayhem has put pressure on U.S. military commanders supervising the occupation to begin changing a war-fighting operation into one that keeps order and peace. But the war is not over.

Recent days have been marked by suicide bombing attacks against U.S. troops, by the manhunt for senior members of the Hussein's leadership and by preparations for a military strike against Hussein's tribal home of Tikrit, about 110 miles north of Baghdad.

The military's first priority - to crush Hussein's regime - appears to be proceeding apace, and the good will so much in evidence here over the past several days has not dissipated, although it is by no means uniform.

But the widespread anarchy that followed the first moments of liberty here this week has become a central problem for U.S. soldiers and Marines, who constitute the only visible presence of any form of order.

The mayhem gave rise yesterday to signs of widespread Iraqi anger over the direction of the U.S. enterprise here.

But there were also distinct signs of progress. Large tracts of the city appeared to be clear of fighting and of enemy activity.

A 10-mile strip of the Baghdad's urban core, running along the Tigris, appeared calm for the first time since Hussein's government fell.

The five main bridges linking the two sides of the city over the Tigris were opened, allowing traffic to flow freely for the time.

And in some neighborhoods, U.S. tanks that had been parked on street corners had simply moved out, so certain were the soldiers that the enemy was gone.

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