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April 12, 2003

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U.S. Steps Up Police Efforts Across Iraq
U.S. Sending 1,200 Officers to Help Restore Order in Iraq; Suspicious Bus Stopped Near Syria

The Associated Press

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April 12

As looting spread Saturday to new areas of Baghdad, U.S. officials said 1,200 police and judicial officers will go to Iraq to help restore order. In western Iraq, U.S. forces stopped a busload of men who had $650,000 in cash and a letter offering rewards for killing American soldiers.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, at U.S. Central Command, said the 59 men, all of military age, were captured while heading toward Iraq's border with Syria. He said he did not know the men's nationalities nor who wrote the letter offering rewards.

American troops remained focused on erasing military threats instead of curbing lawlessness. In Baghdad, Marines showed reporters a cache of about 50 explosives-laden suicide bomb vests in an elementary school less than 20 feet from the nearest home.

At a nearby junior high school, seven classrooms were filled with hundreds of crates of grenade launchers, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition. Residents said Iraqi soldiers and militiamen had positioned weaponry throughout the neighborhood before U.S. forces moved in.

"We didn't imagine this much stuff here," said Lt. David Wright, of Goldsboro, N.C. "Every 200 meters we find something."

Searching for weapons, and for holdout bands of pro-Saddam fighters, has been the primary task of many of the American troops in Baghdad. But U.S. officials, criticized for doing too little to curtail the looting, say the restoration of law and order will become a higher priority.

The State Department said it is 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 American occupation.

Much of the looting in Baghdad and other cities has targeted government ministries and the homes of former regime leaders, but looters also have ransacked embassies, stolen ambulances from hospitals and robbed some private businesses.

Also looted was the Iraq National Museum, the country's flagship archaeological museum, which featured priceless artifacts dating back to 5,000 B.C. Reporters visiting it Saturday saw row after row of empty glass cases, many of them smashed, and bits of broken pottery and sculpture on the floors.

U.S. forces reopened two strategic bridges Saturday in the heart of Baghdad giving looters easier access to territory that had previously been spared. U.S. forces watched but did not intervene as plunderers swarmed into several government buildings, including the Planning Ministry, and emerged with bookshelves, sofas and computers.

Aid organizations, as well as many Baghdad residents, have pleaded with U.S. officials to crack down on the looting.

"The humanitarian situation is worsening as a consequence of widespread lawlessness," said InterAction, a Washington-based coalition of more than 160 U.S. aid groups. Iraq-based relief workers with CARE reported that hospitals are "in absolutely dire straits," with some looted and others closed to prevent looting.

Abbas Reta, 51, a Baghdad engineer with five children, was distraught at the looting of schools and hospitals.

"If one of my family is injured where will I take them now? When the schools reopen, my children will have no desks to sit on," he said. "The Americans are responsible. One round from their guns and all the looting would have stopped."

In another Baghdad neighborhood, residents complained that U.S. soldiers thus far have not heeded requests to clear cluster bombs dropped during the war. The residents said three people had been killed and one injured trying to pick up the unexploded ordnance.

Najah Jaffar, 51, described his attempt to get American help removing the bombs.

"When I spoke to the soldier, he said, `It takes time.' I think many people will be injured. Many bodies, many children will be killed without reason," Jaffar said. "This is no peace."

Looting diminished Saturday in the northern city of Mosul, a day after pro-Saddam defense forces dissolved and U.S. special forces moved in. The special forces were joined Saturday by a two-dozen-vehicle Army convoy that was greeted by thousands of cheering Iraqis.

In Kirkuk, another northern city taken this week from Iraqi regime forces, there were signs of cooperation Saturday among the region's different ethnic groups. The Arab television network Al-Jazeera reported an agreement to form a local administrative body divided evenly among Arabs, Kurds and ethnic Turks.

Next, the U.S.-led coalition is expected to focus on Saddam's hometown, Tikrit, where some Iraqi forces are believed to be regrouping. However, the U.S. Central Command said many of the troops there have fled in the face of heavy airstrikes, and the remnants may not be able to muster an effective defense.

Tikrit, 90 miles northwest of Baghdad, has long been a power center for Iraq's Sunni Muslim tribes, who may plan to resist as long as possible out of fear of losing power to the Shiite Muslim majority. Saddam drew many members of his inner circle from Tikrit, and built several fortified palaces and military installations there.

Officials at the Pentagon have specific concerns about one aspect of the widespread looting that vandalism of government offices could destroy evidence about weapons of mass destruction.

Finding chemical and biological weapons manufactured by Saddam's regime is a top priority for the U.S.-led forces. Troops are seeking documents and Iraqi weapons experts in hopes of getting leads on where banned materials might be.

"We have offered two things," said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "One is financial rewards. And we've also said that if people have spotty backgrounds, assisting us might make their futures brighter."

In western Iraq, U.S. troops seized control of crossings on two highways leading into Syria. There was tough resistance near Qaim, on the Syrian border, raising speculation that the town might be site for illegal weapons.

U.S. officials said Saturday that the first humanitarian flights had arrived at Baghdad's international airport since it was taken by American troops two C-130 transport planes with 24,000 pounds of medical supplies from the Kuwaiti government for hospitals in Baghdad.

photo credit and caption:
A crowd, gathered under a giant mural depicting Saddam Hussein, watch the British 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment search a military compound in Ad Dayr north of Basra, Iraq, Saturday, April 12, 2003. (AP Photo/Chris Ison)

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

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