Three days after the fall of Baghdad, the largest city in northern Iraq, Mosul, has become the latest to fall to U.S. and Kurdish forces, leaving Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit as the last major target of coalition troops. But as more and more Iraqis realize the era of Saddam is over, widespread looting and chaos are spreading through liberated areas left lawless in the wake of the regime's collapse.
In Baghdad, rampaging looters are taking anything and everything they can, no longer just from government buildings but from hospitals, hotels, shops, banks and even private homes. U.S. soldiers, the only force around with the power to stop it, are overwhelmed, says one American Marine. "There's only so much we can do. There's only so much we can prevent because we're such a short number," he said.
Iraqis are asking western reporters when the forces that removed Saddam Hussein will come back and restore security. "There is no security here," said one Iraqi resident. "There is no freedom, this. Where are the coalition forces?"
Government ministries, the remaining symbols of the only regime many Iraqis ever knew, were also set on fire. VOA's Alisha Ryu witnessed some of the destruction Friday night. "As I'm talking to you now, I'm looking at three fires that are burning off in the distance inside Baghdad and I suspect one of them is the ministry of information that I understand was ransacked and looted earlier in the day," she said.
The Red Cross describes looting in Baghdad as catastrophic, with doctors unable to work and medical supplies unable to be delivered amid the chaos. Warehouses of food to be distributed by the World Food Program have been emptied, prompting WFP spokeswoman Antonia Paradela to appeal to coalition forces to do more to improve security. "It is the duty of an occupying power to protect the civilian population and guarantee law and order," she said.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld characterized the looting as 'untidiness' and something to be expected after a long period of repression. American troops, he said, are attempting to stop it where they can but he complained about what he characterized as exaggerated press coverage. "I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest and it just was . . . the sky is falling, I've never seen anything like it," he said. "And here is a country that is being liberated. Here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator and they're free and all this newspaper could do with eight or ten headlines, they showed a man bleeding, a civilian who they claimed we had shot, one thing after another. It's just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country."
Friday, widespread anarchy spread to Iraq's third largest city, Mosul in the north, after crowds poured into the streets to celebrate its fall to Kurdish and coalition forces. The Iraqi army there dropped their weapons and surrendered without a fight.
That leaves Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town, as one of the last remaining targets of coalition forces. Some reports have suggested members of the ousted Iraqi government may have fled there.
After visiting wounded American soldiers at Washington-area military hospitals Friday, President Bush said he does not know whether Saddam Hussein is dead or alive. "I do know he's no longer in power," he said.
But he suggested Syria may be allowing some of his aides and family members to flee there. "We expect them to do everything they can to prevent people who should be held to account from escaping in their country," he said. "And if they are in their country, we expect the Syrian authorities to turn them over to the proper folks."
In an effort to apprehend members of the ousted Iraqi government, the U.S. military is giving coalition soldiers decks of playing cards with the names and faces of 55 wanted Iraqi fugitives. Saddam Hussein is featured as the ace of spades.