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Last Updated: Friday, 11 April, 2003, 21:23 GMT 22:23 UK
Eyewitness: Baghdad, city of barricades
Burning warehouse in Baghdad
By Paul Wood
BBC Middle East correspondent

Baghdad warehouse set on fire by looters
Anarchy reigns in Baghdad
The best that can be said about the situation inside Baghdad is that US forces are now trying to address the problem of lawlessness.

Unfortunately, the scale of looting in the city seems to be beyond anyone's ability to control - and it is not just government offices or palaces of the former leadership that are being stripped.

There is increasing concern after a number of hospitals were sacked.

Under the fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power must ensure law and order, so that the sick and injured can receive treatment.

No-man's land

We walked out of our hotel where there is massive security, and then went off the end of the roundabout.

Literally 200 metres down the road, there was not an American marine or infantry soldier to be seen.

Not their fault. There simply are not the boots on the ground to be everywhere.

You should be ashamed of yourselves, you are doing the work of Saddam Hussein, put this stuff back
Doctor's exhortation to looters
But we were now into no-man's land, a state of near anarchy.

Baghdad is now becoming a city of barricades.

At one end of the road was the marine checkpoint.

At the other end of the road was a bunch of local residents who had strung a makeshift barricade of oil drums and fallen branches over the road to stop people coming from other parts of town and removing their belongings from their homes.

The people manning the barricades had hidden the guns away when we came.

They said they did not have guns - I frankly did not believe them - but there were not any guns in evidence.

We heard small-arms fire around the city.

One American marine captain gave the frank assessment that these were either looters shooting at other looters, or they were householders and business owners trying to stop the looters coming in.

'Ali Baba!'

Ali Baba is the cry you hear going up on street corners, meaning the thieves are coming.

If the force of one good man with nothing but his moral argument could stand in the way of these looters, then all it would take was a single marine on the street corner to do the same
At one barricade, I met a doctor of veterinary medicine who invited me into the main laboratory for public health - not only for Baghdad, but for the whole of Iraq.

He showed me that quite pointlessly people are looting things like centrifuges and powerful microscopes and special equipment.

What they were not looting they were smashing, so there were test tubes smashed everywhere.

This doctor went up to the looters, very bravely I thought, and wagged his finger at them.

He said: "You should be ashamed of yourselves, you are doing the work of Saddam Hussein, put this stuff back."

And these men unloaded their pickup truck with the stuff they had just stolen and started carrying it back into this laboratory.

The point that the doctor made was that if the force of one good man with nothing but his moral argument could stand in the way of these looters, then all it would take was a single marine on the street corner to do the same.

And that is what they are asking the Americans to do.

Greed and anarchy

Many people are embarrassed about the looting. One man manning a barricade tried to tell me the looters are not Iraqis. Of course they are Iraqis.

They are poor people, they are people - their neighbours would say - without much pride in what they are doing and there is also the allegation that these are loyalists of the regime.

One man said this is the work of Saddam Hussein, the Saddam Fedayeen who were sent to special training schools to wreak this kind of destruction.

It is exactly what they did in Kuwait, he said.

But this seems to be wishful thinking. It is not the regime. It is just chaos, it is just anarchy. It is greed, not any kind of political point being made by the looters.




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