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On guard: Locals are taking things into their own handsImage: AP

Looting Goes on in Iraqi Cities

April 13, 2003

Coalition forces and locals tried to quell the looting of Iraqi cities that continued unabated on Saturday. Kurdish guerrillas started retreating from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, while U.S. forces moved in.

U.S. led coalition forces struggled to bring order to Iraqi cities as looters continued to ransack and set fire to hospitals, governmental buildings and shops on Saturday.

U.S. Marines started 24-hour patrols of parts of Baghdad to check the lawlessness that has plagued the capital since they occupied it. The forces introduced a curfew on Saturday night in Baghdad and Mosul.

At the same time, U.S. troops cleared passage over two strategically important bridges in Baghdad, inadvertently opening new possibilities for looters. Plunderers ransacked government buildings, making off with furniture and computers as U.S. Marines watched.

National treasures looted

Looters plundered the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, which housed masterpieces from the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Islamic cultures, some of them thousands of years old. Museum personnel was concerned that more thieves would make their way to the museum and destroy the artworks that are still intact.

Deputy museum director Midal Amin blamed U.S. troops for the looting. "They know that this is a museum. They protect oil ministries but not the cultural heritage."

Marine Infantry commander General Steve Hummer said his men were trying their best to ensure safety. "We aren't a police troop," he added.

U.S. troops in Baghdad began recruiting Iraqis to work as police and public servants on Saturday. Hundreds of Iraqis were waiting in front of the Hotel Palestine after the call for professionals with experience in utilities, medicine and policing was broadcast.

Local watch

In some neighborhoods locals formed armed groups to patrol the streets and catch looters.

"The Americans are letting thieves tale everything from the Iraqi people. It is their responsibility to keep security, Nezar Amhed, and electrical engineer in central Baghdad told Reuters.

In Nassiriya, Marines and locals have been working together to repair the southern city's infrastructure. While there was some looting in the immediate aftermath of the capture of the city by U.S. Marines, Nassiriya has returned to a semblance of normality.

In the southern town of Basra, British troops were aiming to start patrols with local policemen within 48 hours.

Treffen zwischen Engländern und Irakis
The commander of Zulu Company, 1RRF, Maj. Duncan McSpooran, meets one of the local Imams in Basra.Image: AP

"In Basra…with the assistance of the locals we have managed to reduce the amount of looting," said Group Captain Al Lockwood, the spokesman for British Forces at Central Command war headquarters in Qatar.

Along with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Lockwood denied that Iraq was turning into chaos and accused the media of exaggerating the plundering.

"It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld proclaimed at a Pentagon briefing.

Humanitarian organizations critical

Humanitarian organizations have demanded the United States to put an end to the looting.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that the situation in Baghdad was verging on chaos.

The organization said that combat damage, looters and general anarchy had left the city with virtually no functioning hospitals. It demanded that coalition forces restore order according to their duties set out in the Geneva Conventions. Few medical or hospital support staff were reporting to work, and patients had fled or were neglected, the organization said.

Workers with the aid organization CARE also reported that the situation in hospitals was terrible. Some had been looted, while others had closed to avoid being looted.

Military staff who planned the war had failed to consider how to maintain order after the collapse of central authority, David Wimhurst, a spokesman for the United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq said in Amman on Friday.

Kurdish guerillas still in cities

In the northern city of Kirkuk, Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas set up roadblocks on roads leading into the city to curb plunderers. They were turning people back who they suspected of planning to loot. Kurdish police directed traffic in the center of the city.

Kurdischer Soldat steht Wache in Mosul
A Kurdish soldier stands guard at the center of Mosul after the Kurdish troops came under fire by Iraqi militias on Friday.Image: AP

U.S. troops have entered the city, but their presence is hardly visible on Saturday morning, Reuters reported.

After U.S. troops bombarded the city, Iraqi government forces collapsed on Thursday and the Kurdish guerrillas quickly moved in to secure the city. They had promised to withdraw from the city as soon as possible, after being put under pressure from the United States and Turkey.

Turkey has been concerned that the Kurdish fighters in the northern Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul would spark Kurdish claims for a separate state in the region. Its fears seem to have been assuaged by U.S. assurances that the Kurdish guerrilla will leave the two cities.

"There is no need at the moment for the Turkish army to enter northern Iraq, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül said on Saturday. Turkish military observers were working with the American troops in Kirkuk and Mosul, he added.

In Mosul, U.S. forces began securing key intersections a day after Iraqi troops surrendered without a fight. There too looters were ransacking buildings.

U.S. forces bombarded the surroundings of Tikrit, where troops loyal to Saddam Hussein had taken up positions, preparing for an eventual ground assault.

U.S.-Iraqi talks on Tuesday

The United States has planned a meeting for Tuesday in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya to bring together a variety of Iraqis intended to initially govern the country.

"We expect this to be the first in a series of regional meeting that will provide a forum for Iraqis to discuss their vision of the future and their ideas regarding the Iraqi interim authority, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

No United Nations officials have been invited to the meeting.

Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.

Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.