WASHINGTON April 12 —
Pentagon officials are concerned that the looting and destruction
of government offices in Iraq could destroy evidence related to
weapons of mass destruction the United States wants to find.
U.S. and coalition forces also are working to prevent Iraqi
nuclear, chemical and biological weapons experts from fleeing the
country, defense officials say. Some Iraqi officials trying to leave
Iraq through Syria, for example, are believed to be those with ties
to weapons programs.
Finding and eliminating the chemical and biological weapons
manufactured by Saddam Hussein's defunct regime is a top priority of
the U.S.-led military forces in Iraq. To do so, the troops must find
the documents and experts that can tell them where the banned
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday that U.S. forces
were working "as best we can" to secure the documents, material and
people needed to root out weapons of mass destruction.
"We have offered two things. One is financial rewards. And we've
also said that if people have spotty backgrounds, assisting us might
make their futures brighter," Rumsfeld said.
U.S. officials fear documents and other clues to weapons of mass
destruction are being destroyed as Iraqi government facilities are
Aid organizations said the lawlessness was making the
humanitarian situation in Baghdad worse and urged the Bush
administration to move quickly against it.
The U.S. military rejected criticism that it was allowing a wave
of looting and violence to take place in Iraq, saying troops must
remain focused on combat, not restoring order.
Rumsfeld characterized the looting as "untidiness" and part of a
transitional phase after the fall of Saddam's government and on the
way to freedom.
"Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said.
"We do feel an obligation to assist in providing security, and
coalition forces are doing that," he told a Pentagon news
conference. "Where they see looting, they are stopping it."
At the war's command center in Qatar, officials said earlier
Friday they expected the surge of violence as a release of pent-up
hatred and anger at a regime that brutalized and repressed the
population for decades.
The comments came on the third day of pillaging in the capital,
and violence repeated itself anew with the fall of each additional
city in northern Iraq.
Much of the looting was at government ministries and the homes of
former regime leaders, with bands of looters taking everything from
vases, desks and other furnishings from government offices to AK-47s
and ammunition from Iraqi military bunkers.
But they also stripped foreign embassies, took ambulances from
hospitals and attacked some private businesses. In the northern city
of Mosul, residents burned buildings, stole rare manuscripts from
the university library and grabbed wads of money from a bank as
local people with accounts deposited there looked on sadly.
Rumsfeld suggested that many of the television images beamed
around the world showing acts of looting were being shown
repeatedly, exaggerating the effect.
"You cannot do everything instantaneously," Rumsfeld said, adding
there were upcoming efforts to increase security.
Marine commanders in Iraq acknowledged confusion in providing
security. U.S. troops and tanks guarded only a few hotels, key
intersections, overpasses and apparently at least one hospital, but
a Marine commander said he didn't have enough men to do more.
Other soldiers said it was not their job to do police work.
Some outside observers said it was a U.S. obligation to help
restore order since it was U.S. forces that toppled the regime
structure that previously provided security, food and so on.
"They should be doing something because it destroys our image as
the liberators and the people who are going to bring a new order to
Iraq," said Ivo Daalder, an analyst with the Brookings
Aid organizations urged the government to quickly get control of
the capital, after their representatives in the region reported "the
humanitarian situation is worsening as a consequence of widespread
lawlessness," said a statement from Washington-based InterAction, a
coalition of more than 160 U.S. aid groups.
|Residents of the Karbala
neighborhood of Baghdad intercept a man suspected of looting
at a checkpoint they set up to intercept looters Friday April
11 2003 as widespread looting continues in the Iraqi capital.
(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)|
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