by Firas Al-Atraqchi
Reprinted from YellowTimes.org
For two days running, mainstream media has bombarded the viewing public with the same images of Saddam Hussein's toppling statue, filmed from numerous angles. Cheering Iraqis stomping on, ripping, or burning pictures of Saddam seemed to portray that the war in Iraq had come to an end; victory, freedom, liberty -- all at arm's reach.
However, the real war, the true test of U.S. President George Bush's and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair's resolve is yet to come.
Ominously, the past two days of toppled statues showed nothing of the carnage in Baghdad hospitals. The International Committee of the Red Cross revealed that Iraqi hospitals were so overwhelmed that the injured were lying bleeding in hallway floors awaiting treatment and care. This is where the real war begins.
Unfortunately, the BBC reported early Thursday that looting had become so rampant in Baghdad that Iraqi doctors were begging U.S. Marines to stand guard outside local district hospitals and prevent armed brigands from stealing vital medical equipment. The Marines failed to comply.
"When the al-Kindi hospital, one of Baghdad's key medical facilities, was attacked by armed looters, U.S. troops failed to intervene, saying they had no orders to do so," said the BBC's Rageh Omar in Baghdad.
The Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies have called the collapse of the Iraqi health sector a "scandal."
Germany joined a growing number of voices calling on U.S. troops to protect world embassies in Baghdad after looters ransacked and tore down fixtures, window frames, door knobs, chairs, lamps, etc.
Al Jazeera TV showed looters fighting one another to stake a claim on Uday Hussein's prized horses. The Al Jazeera cameraman managed to capture scenes of one horse being run over by a pickup truck. It is likely the horses will be slaughtered for their meat, a commodity hardly savored by the downtrodden Iraqis of Saddam City.
In Basra, looters broke into a local bank. In the recently "liberated" northern city of Kirkuk, looters broke into two local banks and made off with anything they could find.
On Friday, Reuters reported that U.K. forces were fired upon after trying to detain a number of armed looters robbing a bank. U.K. forces engaged the looters and killed five.
Back in Baghdad, five government ministries and several commercial buildings continued to burn well into their third night. No local fire brigades were called in. The Ministry of Sport and Youth, formerly headed by Uday Hussein, has been burning for two days.
In the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad, Iraqis began to grasp the calamity of their situation. While they did make idle chatter with U.S. Marines who are hoping to befriend the Iraqis, many Iraqi citizens expressed concern that there was a complete breakdown in civil order with no visible civil administration in control.
The Marines for their part admit they are not there to play a political role.
A cook at the hotel said, "we have no electricity; we have no bread; we have nothing."
On Friday, Agence France Presse reported that mobs in Baghdad have looted Iraq's largest archaeological museum. AFP also reported that there were dozens of bodies strewn alongside roads in the city, some of paramilitary units, others of women and children: "The putrid, fly-covered corpses were being buried in a mass grave along the side of the road by volunteers whose noses were covered with scarves against the stench, according to the photographer."
"If the price of freedom is this, we don't want it," one Iraqi helping at the scene told the AFP.
BBC's Omar reports that "the Iraqi capital is prey to gangs of armed looters who have raided government buildings, shops, private homes and even hospitals."
By Friday night, the situation in Mosul was no different. However, Mosul residents have banded together and formed street patrols preventing any looters from escaping with their cache. All retrieved items are being stored in local mosques.
On Thursday night, ABC Australia filmed a U.S. Marine unit pummel a pickup truck with hundreds of machine gun rounds. Apparently, the truck had come too close to the convoy carrying the Marines. ABC Australia later reported that the pickup truck was carrying three civilians, all dead.
However, chaos in Iraq was not limited to looting and vandalism. In the holy city of Najaf, a reconciliation meeting went horribly wrong as a crowd rushed and hacked to death two Shiite Muslim clerics -- one a Saddam Hussein supporter, the other a returning exile who had urged support for U.S. troops. Iraqi exiles claim this underscores the inner upheaval within the Shiite community in Iraq.
Amidst the looting and lawlessness, Iraqis are beginning to fear the specter of revenge killings and the settling of scores.
In a Friday Pentagon press briefing, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld blamed the international media for the looting in Baghdad, claiming that it was not as widespread as cameras were showing.
"Stuff happens," he said, apparently irked by some of the questions regarding White House planning to restore civil order in Iraq.
Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry.
Firas Al-Atraqchi encourages your comments: fatraqchi@YellowTimes.org
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