Published May 13, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Police packed guns again Monday for the first time since the war and unpaid Iraqi soldiers rallied angrily outside a U.S. Army (search) base in Baghdad (search), a city of people outraged over crime, blackouts and lack of salaries.
Many residents have said they feel helpless over the looting, arson and general lawlessness of fellow Iraqis since the U.S.-British invasion brought down President Saddam Hussein's (search) government last month.
The nature of the problem appears to be changing from mass looting to more targeted crime: reported kidnappings, car thefts and carjackings.
In the past week, about 40 vehicles have been stolen from the national Electricity Commission, a further setback to efforts to repair lines damaged by U.S. bombing and vandalism, said Army Maj. John Cornelio of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
On Monday, the occupation authorities distributed sidearms to Baghdad police, holdovers from the old regime who are now patrolling the city. Police guarding important sites will have assault rifles.
An estimated 5,000 of 9,000 Baghdad police have reported for duty since a call went out May 4, ORHA said. But none of Baghdad's 60 police stations -- many of which were looted -- is considered equipped, armed and secure enough to operate around the clock.
A 40-member team of police experts from Britain, the Netherlands and other nations is due in Baghdad this week to assess police operations and training.
In recent days, the U.S. Army has sent in reinforcements -- 2,000 military policemen thus far for Baghdad, with 2,000 more expected soon. Nationwide, the Americans intend to deploy 17,000 military police, ORHA said.
One of the Iraqi soldiers demanding back pay Monday said he and his comrades could help.
"We're ready to cooperate with the Americans, to maintain peace with the police," said Sgt. Saad Adai Mohammed, 40, an air force clerk. But in exchange, he said, "we demand our rights." In his case, he means $60 -- three months' back salary.
Other soldiers held a misspelled placard: "Please we need the justice from the president G. Garner." That referred to the American civilian administrator, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, whose new boss, L. Paul Bremer, arrived in Baghdad on Monday.
In an interview with The New York Times, Massoud Barzani, a key Kurdish leader, said Garner's quick departure could mean the United States was squandering its victory over Saddam by allowing the chaos and anarchy to run unchecked in the streets.
"His departure will have a very negative effect. The rapid change of officials is not very helpful because we need focus," the Times quoted Barzani as saying.
He said "major mistakes have been made" in the civilian and military management in postwar Iraq, "and if we continue in this confusion, this wonderful victory we have achieved will turn into a quagmire," the Times quoted Barzani.
Just a month after their defeat, 300 Iraqi military men marched through east Baghdad and across a Tigris River bridge to a gate of the Republican Palace complex, the U.S. Army's main Baghdad base and ORHA headquarters.
"We don't want American money or anyone else's money," said another air force sergeant, Ali Kadhim Mohammed, 32. "We have the oil wealth of Iraq. That's what we were paid with before, and that's what we want now."
The postwar administration has made $20 emergency payments to some civil servants to restart government operations. The Iraqi military has not benefited, although Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said ORHA will look at ways to rebuild a "new and reformed" Iraqi armed forces.
Many of Iraq's 400,000 military personnel shed their uniforms and went home as the war wound down in early April. Some have since reappeared at abandoned military offices in hopes of being paid.
As the protesters stopped traffic on Saadoun Avenue, the frustrated Mohammed shouted out a hollow-sounding threat: "I'm ready to put my uniform back on again if they don't give us what we're owed."