Looting Continues in Baghdad, Iraqis Demand More Security
An emotional Museum Deputy Director Nabhal Amin told Reuters, ”They have looted or destroyed 170,000 items of antiquity dating back thousands of years… They were worth billions of dollars.”
According to a Reuters reporter on the ground, the crowd broke into rooms with massive steel doors like bank vaults, and the museum’s grounds were littered with paper, broken glass and pottery shards.
Among the museum’s holdings are artifacts dating back thousands of years from the Mesopotamia region located in the Tigris-Euphrates basin, widely believed to be one of the world’s earliest civilizations. Museum officials had placed many of the artifacts behind the reinforced doors before the war to protect them, but now everything has been taken, the Associated Press reported.
Amin said U.S. troops should have shielded the building from plunderers.
“The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened,” she said. “I hold the American troops responsible for what happened to this museum.”
Crowds of looters have ransacked government buildings in the days since coalition troops routed Iraqi forces and took control of the capital city. A new wave of looting reportedly began Saturday after U.S. forces reopened two bridges into the center of the city.
Looters were seen carrying furniture, TV sets and air conditioners from the Foreign Ministry building, computers, bookshelves and sofas from the Planning Ministry, and materials from the Planning Ministry, the AP reported. Reporter Hamza Hendawi wrote that “it appeared American troops were doing nothing” to end the looting.
In response to the unrest, U.S. Marines plan to impose a night curfew in parts of the city, Lt. Col. Jim Chartier, commander of the Marines’ 1st Tank Battalion told Reuters. Chartier said radio broadcasts and pamphlets would advise residents to remain indoors during hours of darkness.
Earlier Saturday, Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said reports of looting had been overplayed in the news media, but said the U.S. believes the looting is “tapering off.”
“I would say it’s not nearly as widespread as the focus seems to be when the camera happens to be at those locations,” Brooks said. “It’s not an acceptable behavior for the Iraqi people, and where leaders are stepping forward in communities, it’s coming to an end.”
His comments echoed a response to questions about looting from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday.
“I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn’t believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest,” Rumsfeld said. “And it just was Henny Penny — “The sky is falling.” I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“We do feel an obligation to assist in providing security, and the coalition forces are doing that,” the secretary added. “They’re patrolling in various cities. Where they see looting, they’re stopping it, and they will be doing so.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department announced Friday it was sending 26 police and judicial officers to Iraq, part of what officials say will be a team numbering 1,200.
Responding to criticism of U.S. handling of the civil unrest, Brooks pointed to cities like Mosul, where he said “limited looting against regime locations … has come to an end.”
“We don’t want to have lawlessness,” Brooks said. “That’s not part of the objective, and it certainly is not part of the long-term view of what a free Iraq will look like. And so I think that we all just need to be patient and recognize that this is not something that happens overnight.”