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April 12, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Troops' Task: Calming Iraq's Capital
U.S. Troops Faced With Difficult Task of Restoring Order in Iraq's Battered Capital

The Associated Press


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BAGHDAD, Iraq April 12

Harried Marines still in desert camo huddled at a hotel bar with Iraqi civil servants on Saturday, taking the first stabs at restoring a capital collapsed in chaos and looting.

Outside the generator-lit hotel serving as makeshift government headquarters, Iraqi police leaders and others were desperate to help but stood stymied at the gate, blocked by Marines guarding the entrance.

Five days after U.S. troops took much of the capital, Marines struggled to fill the vacuum left when the Saddam Hussein regime fled. On Saturday, U.S. military and Iraqi police officials said they will begin joint patrols to restore order in Baghdad.

"It's like trying to get Los Angeles back up," said Marine Maj. Frank Simone, one of a handful of Marine civil affairs officers summoning groups of Iraqi water, electrical and police civil servants to the Palestine Hotel, where U.S. forces more or less have set up a base.

The joint patrols, like ones the British announced in the southern city of Basra, will start in a day or two, said Iraqi police Col. Mohammed Zaki. "Anyone who carries a weapon or fires a weapon, we will fire at," he said. Marines didn't offer a start time, but said it would be soon.

Outside the cordon in front of the hotel, police Maj. Ali Hussein, in neat shirt and tie, pleaded with M-16 toting Marines holding him back from joining the meeting inside. "People are stealing everywhere, breaking in everywhere," he said.

Inside, Ahmad Hussein, a national-ID-registration official, argued for using police. "We all, everyone, want to go back to work. We want only to protect Iraq's citizens," he said.

Looters have roamed the city's main routes, power has been off for more than a week, hospitals are overworked and themselves targeted by robbers. Water has slowed to a sporadic trickle.

Iraqis have appealed for Americans to allow the country's police officers to return to work. The Americans, however, suspect some police of collaborating with Saddam's fighters, such as using police radios to guide Iraqi attacks.

"Most of the top people, the ones we think are Baath officials, the ones that fled, are guys that we don't want to come back," Simone said. "But a lot of the ones that stayed are good guys."

Restoring electricity remains a top goal.

The power has been off since April 2, three days before American troops first entered Baghdad, when someone in authority in Saddam's regime sent out a general shutdown order, said Riyadh Nahed, a top engineer at one city power plant.

Most electrical workers then abandoned their jobs, though some tried to restore electricity right up to the eve of the entry of U.S. forces to the city, Nahed said.

The network appears to have been spared both American bombs and Iraqi sabotage but workers told the Marines they have neither the fuel, transportation, assurances of safety nor direction to return to work.

On Saturday, there were a few signs of improvement. U.S. forces who had been concentrated in key intersections spread out, and the departure of tanks closing roads allowed honking traffic to fill streets again.

U.S. forces stood guard by at least one hospital. Hospitals and ambulances have been hit hard by robbers; one reported case had robbers rolling hospital beds out of one medical center to restock the one in their neighborhood, near the Shia Saddam City.

At the hotel meetings, the Iraqi civilian officials agreed to an American request to contact their employees and ask them to return to work.

"The sooner you can get the power back, the sooner we can stop all the looting, all the bad things," Marine civil affairs Capt. Ezra Carbins told Iraqi power plant engineers, technicians and others.

"That's the main thing, and I know the main thing you all want is security."


photo credit and caption:
Iraqis loot a pretol station's fuel storage tanks in Baghdad Saturday April 12 2003 as widespread looting continues throughout 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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