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April 12, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Iraq Office Looting Concerns Pentagon
Pentagon Officials Worry About Loss of Weapons Information in Iraq Looting

The Associated Press


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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 materials are.

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 ransacked.

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 Institution.

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.


photo credit and caption:
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)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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