BAGHDAD, Iraq April 12 —
U.S. forces reopened two strategic bridges Saturday in the heart
of Baghdad and crowds of looters surged across taking advantage of
access to new territory that had not already been plundered. U.S.
forces did nothing to stop them.
A firefight erupted Saturday evening outside the Palestine Hotel,
where many journalists are based, by the Tigris River. Marines were
running tree-to-tree as heavy machine gun fire and explosions could
be heard near the river.
Iraqis expressed increasing frustration over the lawlessness that
has gripped the capital since the arrival of U.S. troops and the
fall of Saddam Hussein. Looters ransacked government buildings,
hospitals and schools, and trashed the National Museum, taking or
destroying many of the country's archaeological treasures.
A museum employee arrived Saturday to find the administrative
offices trashed by looters. The only thing she could salvage was a
telephone book-sized volume. She refused to give her name. In tears,
she said, "It is all the fault of the Americans. This is Iraq's
civilization. And it's all gone now."
An elderly museum guard said hundreds of looters had stormed in
on Thursday and carried away artifacts on pushcarts and
wheelbarrows. The two-story museum's marble staircase was chipped,
suggesting looters might have dragged heavier items down on
pushcarts or slabs of wood. Glass display cases were shattered and
broken pieces of ancient pottery and statues were scattered
The National Museum held artifacts from thousands of years of
history in the Tigris-Euphrates basin, widely held to be the site of
the world's earliest civilizations. Before the war, the museum had
closed its doors and secretly placed the most precious artifacts in
storage, but the metal storeroom doors were smashed and everything
"This is the property of this nation and is the treasure of 7,000
years of civilization," said museum employee Ali Mahmoud. "What does
this country think it is doing?"
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, head of the Organization of Islamic
Conference's Research Center for Islamic history, art and culture in
Istanbul, called for the immediate protection of Iraq's museums and
On Baghdad's chaotic streets, it appeared American troops were
doing nothing to curb the feverish looting. Troops could be seen
waving looters through checkpoints and standing idly in front of
buildings while they were being pillaged.
Looters swarmed over the Al-Rasheed and the Al-Jumhuriya bridges
across the Tigris River, which divides the city. They pushed into
several government buildings, including the Planning Ministry, which
sits on the edge of the old palace presidential compound on the
river's west bank.
Looters were also seen coming out of the Foreign Ministry
carrying office furniture, TV sets and air conditioners. Children
wheeled out office chairs and rolled them down the street.
U.S. soldiers stood by at the presidential compound as looters
some 400 yards away hauled bookshelves, computers and sofas from the
Planning Ministry. Bands of men with tools plundered cars nearby for
wheels or other parts.
"The Americans have disappointed us all. This country will never
be operational for at least a year or two," said Abbas Reda, 51, an
engineer and father of five.
"I've seen nothing new since Saddam's fall," he said. "All that
we have seen is looting. The Americans are responsible. One round
from their guns and all the looting would have stopped."
U.S. Army troops and armor blocked access to the main palace
grounds. The Oil Ministry also seemed intact with a heavy U.S.
military presence inside. Also intact were some of the power
installations, power stations and power grids.
Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Baghdad, Maher Abdallah, described
the situation as "tragic," and suggested it could have been
"They have ousted the regime and the authority, and in such an
urban area where there is no tribal authority or rule, chaos should
have been expected to break in such a way," Abdallah said.
U.S. officials insist the restoration of law and order will
become a higher priority.
The State Department said Friday it was sending 26 police and
judicial officers to Iraq, the first component of a team that will
eventually number about 1,200. The officers will be part of a group
led by Jay Garner, the retired general chosen by the Bush
administration to run the initial Iraqi civil administration under
|An Iraqi child carries a
gold-plated bathroom sink he looted from a gated upper class
housing compound near the Saddam International Airport in
Baghdad on Saturday, April 12, 2003. Hundreds of civilians
invaded the abandoned compound stealing everything from beds
to light fixtures. (AP Photo/Jean-Marc
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