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U.S. Forces to Keep Order in Baghdad

BY Admin  April 11, 2003 at 12:30 PM EDT

General Tommy Franks said, ”The Saddam regime has ended, is over and we will stay until there is a free government.”

“We are going to respect their culture and their religion.”

Franks said troops should allow Iraqi government workers to return to their jobs, and should ensure that businesses, mosques, hospitals and schools remain open. His order said troops should not use deadly force to prevent looting.

The new rules mark the first attempt by the U.S. military to curtail the looting and unrest that erupted in the days since coalition forces seized control of the Iraqi capital.

Since then, thousands of Iraqis, including entire families and young children, continued a looting spree, pillaging government offices, colleges, and hospitals in the Iraqi capital.

On Friday, people ran out of buildings carrying desks, water coolers and air conditioners. Other mobs raided and set ablaze the vacated government buildings and other symbols of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Armed bandits combed residential areas looking for homes to break into, threatening to shoot anyone who gets in their way, news reports said.

“The situation has become worse since [Thursday]. It is anarchy,” Reuters correspondent Khaled Yacoub Oweis reported from Baghdad on Friday.

Oweis said he saw armed men roaming the streets and ransacking hospitals, colleges, and government offices, now abandoned by senior officials of Saddam’s regime.

“The looters are armed and are shooting at people. There are a lot of guns in the streets,” fellow Reuters correspondent Hassan Hafidh said.

Officers with the 7th Marine Regiment said they received orders Thursday night to try to impose order, with plans to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew beginning Friday in eastern Baghdad.

Lt. Col. Michael Belcher, a battalion commander, said his first priority was to protect the capital’s power and water systems and to safeguard hospitals and aid distribution centers. Commercial buildings were the last priority, he said.

“If I see them tearing down electrical infrastructure in some of these facilities, I’ll step in to stop it,” Belcher said. “What we found so far is that if you confront the looters, they’ll put it down and go away.”

Lt. Col. Jim Chartier, commanding officer of the U.S. Marines’ 1st Tank Battalion in Baghdad, said the new orders took troops “a little bit out of our comfort zone, but we’re not unprepared or untrained.”

“If I need to provide security for a grocery store so they don’t get robbed, I’ll do it,” he told Reuters. “On the other hand, there’s still people out there who want to kill us, so we can’t let our guard down.”

U.S. troops are also setting up a civil military operations center in the city’s Palestine Hotel and have asked Iraqis working in public services to join them and assist their efforts, the BBC reported.

“What we’re doing today is making the transition to stabilization operations,” Army Col. David Perkins, a brigade commander in Baghdad, said on Friday.

“We have a lot of civil affairs guys in the town working with hospitals and trying to get water and power back on.”

Meanwhile, in several neighborhoods, residents have taken their own measures to fend off looters and armed bandits. Some residents blocked their streets with large rocks and sandbags, while others carried rifles and knives to ward off robbers.

“Tell the Americans to stop the killing and the looting. We can’t live like this much longer, with Muslims looting other Muslims,” Jabryah Aziz told the Associated Press. “I need to feel safe so I can go and collect my food ration.”

However, Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said the military would help rebuild the civil administration there, but expects the Iraqis to establish law and order.

“At no time do we really see becoming a police force,” Brooks said.