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Last Updated:  Saturday, 12 April, 2003, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Baghdad protests over looting
Iraqis protest in front of US forces
Iraqis protest in front of US forces in Baghdad
Hundreds of Iraqis have been demonstrating in the centre of Baghdad demanding urgent action to combat the wave of lawlessness that has swept the city.

The protesters chanted slogans and carried placards demanding tighter security to prevent looting.

It follows a Red Cross warning that the Baghdad medical system has virtually collapsed amid the continued violence and fear.

But there are signs that US forces are beginning to step in and restore order after looters turned to raiding people's homes.

Bagdad is still dangerous with gunfire in the streets of the city and continued fighting in the north-eastern suburb known as Saddam City.

The BBC's Paul Wood in Baghdad reports that violence is now crossing the religious divide, with some Shia Muslims fighting gun battles with their Sunni neighbours.

Small numbers of bodies of looters or their victims are now being buried by the roadside.

The needs are immense
Morten Rostrup
Medecins Sans Frontiere

The few aid groups still operating in Baghdad are finding their work increasingly dangerous and futile.

The Red Cross halted operations after one of its staff members was killed in crossfire in the east of the city on Tuesday.

The US State Department has said it will send up to 1,200 police officers to Iraq, but did not say when they would arrive.

In a BBC interview, a US spokesman appealed to Iraqi public service workers and police to report for duty.

He said 80 people, including a police general, have now volunteered.

'Powerless'

But the BBC's Andrew Gilligan, also in Baghdad, says the difficulty of their task was underlined when local people told reporters they recognised the general as a notoriously corrupt and criminal commander.

Few medical or hospital support staff are reporting for work and many patients have fled.

Paul Wood says another battle of Baghdad is taking place and US forces are powerless to stop it.

The looters are running out of shops and government buildings to rob and residents have erected barricades to prevent looters' vehicles entering their streets.

Looting spree in Baghdad
Nothing is spared by the looters
Many sat up all night on guard outside their property.

In a country in which only six non-governmental organisations were permitted to work before the war, two remain - Premiere Urgence and Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Neither of them have retained any Iraqi personnel.

"The needs are immense," said Morten Rostrup of MSF.

For the first time in weeks, three Premiere Urgence trucks have left Jordan for Baghdad laden with blankets, bed linen and stretchers.

Hospitals ransacked

"It is key to restore security, particularly at the hospitals. If not, all of our efforts would be in vain," said the group's director of operations, Frederic Bonamy.

Medical equipment such as heart monitors and incubators have been stolen and even the laboratories ransacked - centrifuges and microscopes smashed.

"I am desperately looking for someone to co-ordinate the situation with the hospital directors in various parts of the country, but I haven't found anyone, " said Mr Bonamy.

And he stressed that responsibility rested squarely with the Americans.

"You entered a city. Civil society broke down.

"It is your responsibility to guarantee at least minimal operation of infrastructure -- hospitals, police forces, firefighters, water, electricity," he said.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has denied Iraq was falling into chaos.

"Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," he told reporters.

"I don't think there is anyone in those pictures or any human being who does not prefer to be free and recognise that you have passed through a transition period like this and accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Ben Brown reports from Baghdad
"The hope is the looting could soon burn itself out"



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