U.S. and coalition troops are seeking to secure Baghdad and other major cities, amid widespread looting that has followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. VOA's Laurie Kassman drove in to Baghdad from Jordan with a group of other journalists. She spoke with VOA's Pat Bodnar about her day-long journey across the border and into Baghdad.
Kassman: We came across the border at dawn. It was really ironic, because, usually, you have to take an exit visa from Jordan, and then cross to the Iraqi side, and [you] have to have a visa, which we didn't have, because there is no Foreign Ministry to issue the visas. So we were just ushered through on the Iraqi side by American forces, who were manning the border post there.
It was quite ironic, because they were standing there, waving us through, and in the background, there was this statue of Saddam Hussein on a horse and a portrait of Saddam Hussein, with this big poster, saying: 'Welcome to the House of the Great Leader, Saddam Hussein.' But he's not here anymore, or he's not in power anymore. So, it was rather strange.
And then we took off down the road, and it was fairly quiet. We came to one checkpoint, again manned by Americans, who were telling us about a nearby town of Rutba, where the local citizens had handed over some Baath Party officials, that's officials from the party loyal to Saddam Hussein, the ruling party. And, they had started organizing their own police force to maintain law and order. And it was interesting because, if they are starting to do this in the small towns - and I understand they are also starting to do it in some neighborhoods in Baghdad itself - it's a fairly good sign.
Because the last several days have been the scene of rather a bit of chaos and anarchy, where people were out looting and destroying buildings - government buildings, going into the homes of former leaders, and destroying them, and bringing out as much as they could. So, if that [local policing efforts] is possibly getting under way, it's a good sign. Because many people here have been staying indoors, afraid to go out on the streets, because there is no real maintenance of law and order.
Bodnar: Have you seen any of the results of the looting, have you seen a lot of damage along the way?
Kassman: Yes, coming into town, we passed through neighborhoods that had obviously been hit by missiles, or bombs, and there was a lot of destruction. But we also saw a lot of destruction, obviously from looters. There were government buildings, especially, that were on fire, or had already been destroyed. In fact, we passed by the Air Force headquarters, and that was still on fire. There were plumes of black smoke coming up from buildings that had been, obviously, destroyed and ransacked. But we noticed a lot of shops were shuttered. Some small hotels were even bricked up. There were gates drawn across the shops; [there were] very few people on the streets in the neighborhoods we came through.
Although, the people who were out seemed to be walking about quite peaceably. We didn't see any problems. Although I do understand that in another neighborhood, there was a lot of looting and some rough areas, where there is still a bit of violence occurring. So, it's not totally under control.
Bondar: Laurie, have you been able to talk to people along the way, as you were coming into Baghdad?
Kassman: Yes, in the convoy that we were in, there was a family, actually, an Iraqi family that was coming back. They had gone to Jordan to escape the war, and were coming back, because communications had been cut for more than a week now, and they were very worried about their family, and about their home. So, they were coming back with their small child, very nervous, very wary of what they were going to encounter, but determined to come back, and see that their family was okay. I also came back in the convoy with a man who had worked here for many years and had not been back for a year. And, he was just amazed by what he was seeing. He described it as a city turned upside down, because there was nobody on the streets, and seeing the damage and the posters of the Saddam Hussein destroyed.
In fact, we passed by one, there was a man setting fire to it. At the same time, it was very strange because - it seems to me - on almost every block, there was a poster or a statue of Saddam Hussein. So, even though he is no longer here, in control, his presence is still very much there. And many people are not quite sure, I think they still don't believe that he is no longer in power."
Bodnar: Have you been able to talk to these people, about how they were feeling about the war and about what appears to be demise of the Saddam Hussein regime?
Kassman: A lot of mixed feelings. I think, people are still very worried about the future, especially in these recent days, with the looting and the violence and the ransacking. They're very concerned about re-establishing, as quickly as possible, law and order. In fact, they're asking why the coalition troops aren't doing it. They want to see somebody take control, and establish some sort of law and order.
Though I did see buses running again, which was unusual. That had not been happening before. They are also very concerned about the future, and they're worried about a prolonged presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil. They would like to see Iraqis take control, sooner rather than later. Although, they're concerned, again, about establishing some sort of law and order and peace, so they can feel comfortable about re-establishing their lives.
Right now, they're more concerned about going about their daily lives, making sure they have enough to eat, making sure their houses are secure, their families are secure, and their families are safe.