BAGHDAD, Iraq – Looters in Baghdad set their sights Sunday on the symbols of Saddam Hussein's dying regime, swarming a palace overlooking the Tigris River to nab bone china with the Iraqi eagle insignia, fancy wash basins and bath tubs — even fish from the garden pond.
Elsewhere in the city, however, the convulsions of anarchy appeared to be petering out. People felt secure enough to leave their homes and drive around, causing the late-morning traffic jams usually so common to the capital. Buses started running in the center of town.
Storming the Al-Salam Presidential Palace on the river's western bank, the looters marveled bitterly at Saddam's life of luxury as they passed shards of crystal from chandeliers and shattered mirrors.
"That's how our pharaoh lived," said one man, who would not give his name.
"Look how he lived when we couldn't even get bread," said another man.
Sporadic bursts of gunfire could be heard on the palace grounds.
The looters, including women in black chadors and young children, hauled away statuary from the manicured lawns and stripped white marble off the walls. Some tried to carry away massive gilded doors.
They tossed hand grenades in the ponds and walked away with nylon bags full of the dead fish that had floated to the surface.
Baghdad has been engulfed in a frenzy of looting since U.S. troops took control of the city Wednesday. Presidential palaces, government ministries and the Iraq National Museum — the repository of the nation's cultural heritage — have been stripped bare.
American forces — spread out over a city of 4.8 million — have largely stood by and allowed the thievery, causing resentment among a populace increasingly inclined to see the invading army as an oppressor, not a liberator.
On Sunday, however, U.S. Army troops guarded banks and hospitals. Children ventured out to play soccer. Shops began to open and street vendors hawked vegetables loaded onto donkey carts.
A dirty, haggard and unshaven Iraqi soldier surrendered to U.S. Marines guarding the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad. The soldier, in a green uniform too big for him, emerged from a jostling crowd, kissed the feet of a Marine and lay down on the ground to be searched.
"Down, down, Saddam Hussein," the man chanted in English as television cameras filmed him. People in the crowd muttered, "What a show."
Hundreds of cars loaded with personal belongings were entering Baghdad from the city's western approaches, an indication that people who fled the fighting were coming home.
But anger still simmered at U.S. troops for allowing four straight days of pillaging.
New graffiti, scrawled in English, appeared on a Baghdad wall: "Bush supports looters."
Outside the Palestine Hotel, where foreign journalists are staying, a crowd of at least 60 people vented their anger at the Americans. They carried banners that read: "Bush Down," "American Forces must leave immediately" and "Bush + Saddam One."
The Al-Jazeera television network showed live footage of police officers demanding they be allowed to go back to their duties and restore security. Scores of people surrounding them held banners and cheered.
Marines continued to find large stores of weapons scattered throughout the capital. Explosives, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades turned up in trucks parked on major roads, in schools, and in open fields.
The soldiers, without the manpower and equipment to haul away the weapons, noted their whereabouts so they could come back for them later.
That caused some uneasiness among the locals.
"Get this stuff out," said 41-year-old Achmad Idan, as he stood next to a blue truck filled with anti-tank rounds. "These people can't live here."
American troops tried to calm fears.
"We are going to come back and take all this out of here, so your kids can go back to school," Sgt. Aaron Woods, 22, of San Angelo, Texas, told nervous residents. "You just have to be patient."
In the western suburbs of the capital, a plume of black smoke streaked up into the sky. Whole families, including women and children, used donkey carts to haul off toilets, sinks and bathtubs from a warehouse in the Abu Ghreib district.
The looters swarmed army barracks and military warehouses that stretch for miles along a road strewn with dozens of burned-out tanks and armored personnel carriers.
The Agriculture Ministry and other government installations were also ransacked.
In Baghdad proper, an institute of military studies on the city's main street, Palestine Street, was pillaged and gutted by fire, possible an arson attack.
Although public transport resumed, some double-decker buses were taken over by looters for ferrying their booty back home.
U.S. troops set up barricades to search vehicles and passengers coming in and out of the western part of the city. They conducted body searches and inspected vehicles, aggravating the traffic.