BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi police and U.S. troops began jointly patrolling the troubled Iraqi capital on Monday, stumbling over language difficulties but determined to bring order after days of wholesale chaos.
Outside the Palestine Hotel, Marine Cpl. Scott Groff stood uncomfortably with two local policemen.
"Can you help me talk to these guys?" Groff, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., asked a passing journalist. "I don't know how to talk to them."
"Do you speak any Arabic?" asked one of the police.
It was a rough start to the joint security program, but even halting progress is welcome in Baghdad. A dozen towering columns of black smoke, from fires likely set by looters, ringed the center of the city on Monday, a baleful reminder of the anger and desperation that grip Iraq in the wake of the U.S.-led military drive against Saddam Hussein.
Despite pleas from residents terrified by lootings and robberies, U.S. forces in Baghdad have held back from exercising police duties out of concern such a move would send the wrong message.
"It's important that we do this jointly, rather than just us, because there's fear among the Iraqi people that we've come as an occupying force," a Marine officer who didn't give his name told Associated Press Television News.
"Let me stress that we still call on Iraqis themselves to protect their city and their country and their future," said Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar.
Only a handful of patrols went out on Monday, but the new spirit of cooperation between U.S. troops and Iraqi police brought at least one dividend. Some Marines were standing outside a bank when robbers ran out with some $50,000. The Marines grabbed them and turned the money over to the police.
Looters have ransacked and burned parts of Baghdad, stealing even priceless archaeological treasures from Iraq's national museum. On Monday, Baghdad's Islamic Library was on fire.
And while the looting appeared to be easing, the shabbiness of the goods being carted away indicated the decline may have been because there wasn't much left worth taking.
In the western sector of Baghdad, where the U.S. Army is in control rather than the Marines, a few Iraqi police were allowed to go out on patrol on their own, their white cars flashing their lights.
At the Iraqi police academy in Baghdad, several hundred policemen gathered Monday in response to a call by an Arabic-language radio station to prepare for joint patrols.
Police Lt. Col. Haitham al-Ani said the U.S. troops and the Iraqis would patrol in separate cars and that the Iraqi police would not be allowed to carry guns initially.
In addition, Iraqis have launched neighborhood watch programs that are reporting to troops if they see suspicious activity, said Thorp.
American forces were still dealing with resistance in some parts of Baghdad. The fighters, often Syrians and other foreigners, were operating individually or in small clusters, Thorp said.
Government offices and most stores remained closed Monday. But residents were collecting garbage and burning it, and many buses were running, packed with passengers.
In the first stirrings of Baghdad politics, a small number of religious and civil opposition leaders met in the capital Monday to discuss security and restoring electricity and water. The meeting was led by an official of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi.
The small assembly, at the central Palestine Hotel, heard a report from an electricity board representative who said he expected power to be restored to east Baghdad in three to four days, and to west Baghdad within a week.
At a nearby plaza, dozens of demonstrators chanted and waved signs protesting the lack of basic services.
"I've seen lots of children that are already sick because there's no clean water," said Hassan Handal, 28, a chemical engineering student. "People are having to pull dirty water up from wells in their back yards."