Baghdad Seeths With Anger Toward U.S.
Sunday 13 April 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq - At first they cheered, smiled, offered hearty thumbs-ups to the U.S. soldiers newly in their midst. But across Iraq's lawless capital, that sentiment is evaporating as quickly as Saddam Hussein's government melted away.
Baghdad was bursting with anti-American feeling Saturday as residents saw their city being stripped by its own citizens while U.S. forces stood by, rarely intervening and in some cases even motioning treasure-laden men through checkpoints.
Some still agreed with the United States' assessment of itself as a liberator. In the middle-class Zayuna neighborhood, friendly people offered American Marines baths, bread and buoyant greetings and asked for both autographs and help against looters.
But for other Iraqis, in dozens of interviews conducted across Baghdad, the assessment was drastically different: America as conqueror.
"The coalition forces are responsible. Where is the law?" said Safa Hussein Qasim, 44, a jeweler. "This is the promise of the United States to Iraq? This is democracy in Baghdad?"
To walk the streets Saturday was to wade through a crazy-quilt blend of disarray and sadness, rage and jubilation and self-hatred. Though available booty was running low, looting continued apace, as did citizen resistance to it. One man carried a purloined tuba up the street. Baghdadis fretted and argued: What would become of their country?
"Saddam Hussein's greatest crime is that he brought the American army to Iraq," said Gailan Ramiz, 62, helping a mob that was trying to tear down yet another Saddam statue at Shorji market, Baghdad's biggest.
It is stories like Hassan Shrawa's that are making them turn their backs on the uniformed Americans who swept in days ago.
Shrawa, 30, an engineer from Baghdad's Saddam City section, said he and his neighbors captured a Syrian mercenary and turned him over to U.S. troops Friday. As Shrawa tells it, the commander flatly refused to take custody of the man.
"What happens in the future?" Shrawa mused.
U.S. forces say they are doing the best they can under chaotic conditions chaos, many Iraqis point out, that the United States itself created. Few praised Saddam. But at least, they said, he offered stability.
Baghdad lacks that right now. Water, electricity and gasoline are pipe dreams, and food is becoming almost as scarce.
Impromptu commerce is springing up on the sidewalks. One man made money stitching moccasins back together. At a nearby stall, another man dished out bowls of rice and beans from two steaming cauldrons.
On the streets of Zayuna, curious children milled around Saturday, trying out English phrases and asking for Marines' addresses. One presented Sgt. Paul Coughlin of Boston with a red flower that he nestled in his grenade pouch; another played marbles with medic Brent Cook, 23, of Houston.
Elsewhere, the Marines received less enthusiasm. In front of the Palestine Hotel, an area thick with U.S. Marines, several dozen Iraqis demanded a new government now. "We want peace," they chanted in English as Marines looked on from fighting vehicles.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, at U.S. Central Command, says reports of looting in Iraq are overblown that many parts of the country are peaceful, and lawlessness "is already tapering off significantly."
U.S. officials insist the restoration of law and order will become a higher priority. The State Department said Friday it was sending 26 police and judicial officers to Iraq, the first component of a team that will eventually number about 1,200. And on Saturday, the U.S. military and the Iraqi police said they've agreed to joint patrols to restore order "sooner rather than later," one Marine said.
For Iraqis on the ground, such promises mean little until they're delivered.
Residents, fearing looting would move on to private homes, set up neighborhood patrols to prevent it. One family put a girder across the street at the end of their block and stood by it with guns. They, too, denounced America.
"The United States breaks into the palaces and then threatens all the people who steal from them," said Efil Adnan, a 48-year-old oil engineer guarding the barricade with two of his sons and his brother. He held a pistol; the brother wielded a Kalashnikov.
"The United States is a liar," Adnan said. "They are not going to make anything better."
His son, Forkan Efil, 13, wore a T-shirt that said "Football" and also carried a pistol. He said all his friends have guns now.
"I don't like the Americans," the boy said, "but this pistol is for the thieves."
At the market, the dozens of men attempting to tear down the Saddam statue didn't have the oomph. The chain kept snapping, and finally they turned to Plan B pouring gasoline over it and setting it ablaze.
But in doing so, they made sure one important point was known just because they revel in Saddam's ouster doesn't mean they're waving American flags.
"The army of America is like Genghis Khan," Fouad Abdullah Ahmed, 49, snapped as U.S. tanks rumbled by without stopping. "America is not good and Saddam is not good. My people refused Saddam Hussein, and they will refuse the Americans."
One young man went even further.
"If this continues in Baghdad, we'll kill any American or British soldier," said Rahad Bahman Qasim, 30 and unemployed. For emphasis, he added this: "All of us even the women."
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