CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar April 8 —
From palace ashtrays and pillows to jeeps and a grand piano, the
spoils of war are flying fast in Iraq. Civilians have plundered with
little fear of retribution and some U.S. soldiers have helped
themselves to battlefield souvenirs a practice that could land them
Looting has flared in nearly lawless Iraq as coalition forces
wipe out the forces of President Saddam Hussein and his ruling Baath
Party infrastructure. Opportunists have seized whatever they can
looking for an easy windfall, revenge against the regime or even
After a tank battle in the town of Az Zubayr, Iraqis leisurely
picked through government offices, stealing radios, metal bed frames
and an air conditioner. Others made off with a military jeep.
In the nearby city of Basra, townspeople raided the offices of
the Central Bank, streaming out with chairs, tables and carpets.
Looters at the Sheraton Hotel loaded sofas into horse-drawn carts,
and even wheeled the hotel's grand piano down a street.
But Iraqis aren't alone in seizing the moment. During the march
on Baghdad, U.S. troops have nicked items of their own, despite
military rules forbidding it.
On Monday, troops from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division stormed
one of Iraq's presidential palaces. They used Saddam's toilets, but
also rifled through documents and helped themselves to ashtrays,
pillows, gold-painted Arab glassware and other souvenirs.
A U.S. Central Command spokesman, Navy Ensign David Luckett, said
the command hadn't heard such reports through military channels but
condemned the behavior, which is prohibited under U.S. military
"We are making great efforts to preserve the natural resources of
Iraq and any of the belongings of the Iraqi people for the Iraqi
people," Luckett said.
Marine Capt. Stewart Upton, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command
in Qatar, said troops suspected of looting would be first
reprimanded by field officers and ordered to return the items.
Penalties under military law could include a reduction in pay or
even prison time.
"We expect our officers, our military, our coalition forces to
conduct themselves in an honorable manner," Upton said.
Coalition troops most often find themselves trying to prevent
looting by Iraqis.
U.S. commanders posted 24 hour guards at Baghdad Airport's
duty-free shop, to prevent the looting of alcohol. And British
troops have stepped up patrols in Basra to restore order.
In the war's opening days, Kurdish militiamen in northern Iraq
pledged to prevent looting in areas relinquished by the Iraqis. But
those good intentions unraveled last week.
Thousands of Kurds swarmed abandoned Iraqi bunkers and barracks
near Kalaka in a free-for-all that the Kurdish militia made no
attempt to halt. Among the participants was Ishmail Hasan, who
loaded his motorcycle sidecar with chairs, cooking pots, car
batteries and a plastic foam cooler.
"I'm keeping some and selling the rest," he said. "Thank you,
The dangers of unexploded shells and possible mine fields in the
area was overlooked in the rush. The looting spree was a windfall in
a region where a $300-a-month salary is coveted.
The temptation to loot is strong among people who have been
repressed and impoverished for more than two decades by Saddam's
dictatorial rule, said Flight Lt. Peter Darling, a spokesman for
British forces at Central Command. Some start stealing as an act of
"They felt they ought to be taking back what was really theirs,"
Darling said. "They began to realize that the people who had been
ruling them, the Baath Party officials, had been living in
phenomenal opulence. And it was natural for them to want to do some
sort of readjustment."
Darling stressed, however, the need for coalition forces to snuff
out the activity. It helps restore trust in the U.S. and British
troops, rekindles a sense of normalcy and sets the tone for a new
"We must realize this country is responsible for itself, and
they're not damaging us by looting, they're damaging their own
future," Darling said.
|Iraqi men wave from a truck as
they leave the center of Basra, southern Iraq, after looting
shops and houses, Monday April 7, 2003. (AP Photo/Anja
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