BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Correspondent  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Correspondent Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
The Ali Babas of Baghdad
Looting a urinal
A urinal becomes this man's headgear of choice
As US attempts to gain control in Iraq visibly fail, BBC Two's Correspondent witnesses the looting, chaos and devastation that have become the new order in Baghdad.

The price of prize carp, chandeliers and repro Louis XV chairs had just gone down in Baghdad.

The urinal is headgear of choice amongst the city's smart-set if, that is, you are looting from one of Saddam's palaces.

The looters were streaming out of a huge black gate, carrying all the kitsch retro chic with which Saddam liked to surround himself.

devastation left by looters
Saddam's palaces have been stripped bare
They call themselves "Ali Babas" - and the pantomime name fits snugly.

The Ali Babas don't kill people, most of the time.

They don't indulge in ethnic killing, the feared war between Iraq's three corners, the majority Shia, the minority Sunni and the Kurdish north which, so far, hasn't happened.

But do they nick anything in sight, unless it is nailed down, and even then.

Out of control

The rules of the looting game are complicated.

You can steal anything from Saddam or the Baathist state. After all, he stole from the Iraqis for decades.

An American officer lectured them about civic responsibility, but his pleas fell on deaf ears

If that means stealing medicines, wheelchairs, air-conditioning units from hospitals, well, tough.

Every now and then, an American Bradley armoured vehicle lurches into sight.

When the Americans fire into the air, the Ali Babas carry on looting. Only when they level their weapons at the looters do they put their hands up - for a bit.

An American officer lectured them about civic responsibility, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Eventually, he let them all go. That evening, they were back at it all over again.

Drive-by shooting

On the other side of the city the lawlessness was less comic.

We heard gun shots and stopped the car.

While an Iraqi was stuck behind his steering wheel in the middle of a traffic jam, a man with an AK came up to the car, called out his name, and shot him through the neck.

He lay slumped against the car window, bleeding - no, gushing - to death from a hole in his neck the size of a big orange.

I will never forget the utter selfishness of that man while another was bleeding to death

One passer-by started screaming: "The Americans, where are the Americans?" It was easier to do that than help the man.

There was a clinic just round the corner and a few Iraqis started to push the car that way, leaving the dying man in his seat.

Next to him was his ten-year-old son, squealing - literally - with fear.

Selfishness

They got him to the hospital entrance and took him out of the car and dumped him onto a trolley. He landed like a cod onto a fishmonger's slab.

The hospital trolley had then to negotiate a chicane caused by two parked cars. Iraqi society has been so atomised by 20 years of Saddam that selfishness is the norm.

Doctors try to save the life of a victim of a drive-by shooting
Doctors tried in vain to save the man's life
The driver in one wouldn't reverse his car, even to save a life.

I will never forget the utter selfishness of that man while another was bleeding to death.

A brother drove the car off, with the boy still inside. Just before he left the hospital he brandished a pistol.

Everyone has a gun in Iraq, even ten-year-olds.

Doctors threatened

The doctors tried to save the dying man but in vain.

They earn $20 a month and were shocked to find a thick wad of dollars on the man, more than $5,000. He was no Ali Baba, but some kind of gangster.

I was chatting to Dr Nawaz, one of the medics who had tried to save him, about the chaos in Baghdad, while trying to ignore the blood on her toes.

Dr Nawaz
Dr Nawaz: "No rules at all"
Then the dead man's brothers started threatening Dr Nawaz.

"Where's the money?" It had been counted and given to the hospital director for safe-keeping. They wanted it now.

One of the brothers jabbed his key-ring at her and her face distorted into a rictus of fear.

Later, she explained that under Saddam, she had been threatened three times: "If you don't save our friend, we will kill you".

She knew of a doctor who had been murdered by the family of a patient because he had died.

"Before," she said, "the only rules were money and power."

And now? "There are no rules at all".


Iraq: Whose Country Is It Anyway? was broadcast on Sunday, 22 June, 2003 on BBC Two at 19:15 BST.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr Nowaz Hassab
"I'm not against America, but they can do more"
Lieutenent Paul Mysliwiec
"Things were definately more ordered under Saddam"
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Correspondent stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes