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Widespread Looting Continues in Major Iraqi Cities - 2003-04-12

Armed gangs have continued to loot shops, homes and offices in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. With coalition forces insisting they still have a war to fight and that now is not the time for them to become policemen, some residents have decided to strike back on their own. Television reporting has shown Baghdad residents armed with rifles and pistols beating up looters and setting up blockades in an attempt to quell the looting. Others cowered behind barricaded doors and pleaded for allied intervention to restore order.

One man interviewed by American television gave voice to the fears of Baghdad residents. "There is no security here. There is no freedom, this," he said. "Where are the coalition forces?"

The coalition is facing mounting pressure to restore order not only from ordinary Iraqis but also from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has described the situation in the capital as catastrophic. It says looting and insecurity have forced the closure of all but three of Baghdad's hospitals. And it has called on U.S. forces to protect hospitals and water supplies from looters.

A U.S. Marine interviewed by American television said U.S. forces in the city are overwhelmed. "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.

U.S. officials say that the Iraqis have been repressed for so long that they must express their pent-up frustration at their mistreatment by the Saddam Hussein regime and that the looting is part of that. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu, who is accompanying U.S. Army troops in Baghdad, described the dilemma facing the soldiers. "I think the U.S. troops are allowing that a little bit to go on because they understand [the Iraqis] need to vent their anger," she said. "But, at the same time, they do want to bring a stop to it at some point, and they have been told not to use force in doing so. So, it will be a tricky balance for the U.S. troops to try to keep order and allow the people to sort of express themselves at the same time."

Coalition commanders say their first priority is to root out the remaining holdouts among the regime's forces and, to that end, they are preparing to do battle in and around Tikrit, 170 kilometers north of Baghdad. U.S. bombers pounded positions of Saddam Hussein loyalists in Tikrit, the only major city still under the regime's control.

The focus on Tikrit came as the two major cities of northern Iraq, Mosul and Kirkuk, fell almost bloodlessly to U.S. special forces and Kurdish fighters. Though Mosul, like Baghdad, and Basra before it, was the scene of widespread looting, U.S. forces have now taken control of the city. And, in Kirkuk, they are taking over from Kurdish militiamen after Turkey warned it would not tolerate the area's oil wealth remaining in Kurdish hands.