US Troops Encouraged Ransacking
Thursday 11 April 2003
This is a translation of an article from April 11 from Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's largest newspaper, based in Stockholm. The article was written by Ole Rothenborg and translated by Joe Valasek. Khaled Bayomi, has taught and researched on Middle Eastern conflicts for ten years at the University of Lund where he is also working on his doctorate. He has given his permission for this interview to be widely disseminated.
Khaled Bayomi looks surprised when the American officer on TV complains that they don't have the resources to stop the plundering in Baghdad. "I happened to be right there just as the American troops encouraged people to begin the plundering."
Khaled Bayomi traveled from Europe to Baghdad to be a human shield and arrived on the same day that the war began. About this he can tell many stories but the most interesting is certainly his eyewitness account of the wave of plundering.
"I had gone to see some friends who live near a dilapidated area just past Haifa Avenue on the west bank of the Tigris. It was the 8th of April and the fighting was so intense that I was unable to return to the other side of the river. In the afternoon it became perfectly quiet and four American tanks took places on the edge of the slum area. The soldiers shot two Sudanese guards who stood at their posts outside a local administration building on the other side of Haifa Avenue. Then they blasted apart the doors to the building and from the tanks came eager calls in Arabic encouraging people to come close to them. "
"The entire morning, everyone who had tried to cross the road had been shot. But in the strange silence after all the shooting, people gradually became curious. After 45 minutes, the first Baghdad citizens dared to come out. Arab interpreters in the tanks told the people to go and take what they wanted in the building."
"The word spread quickly and the building was ransacked. I was standing only 300 yards from there when the guards were murdered. Afterwards the tank crushed the entrance to the Justice Department, which was in a neighboring building, and the plundering continued there".
"I stood in a large crowd and watched this together with them. They did not partake in the plundering but dared not to interfere. Many had tears of shame in their eyes. The next morning the plundering spread to the Modern Museum, which lies a quarter mile farther north. There were also two crowds there, one that plundered and one with watched with disgust."
"Are you saying that it was US troops who initiated the plundering?'
"Absolutely. The lack of jubilant scenes meant that the American troops needed pictures of Iraqis who in different ways demonstrated hatred for Saddam's regime."
"The people pulled down a large statue of Saddam?"
"Did they? It was an American tank that did that, right beside the hotel where all the journalists stay. Until lunchtime on April 9, I did not see one destroyed Saddam portrait. If people had wanted to pull down statues they could have taken down some of the small ones without any help from American tanks. If it had been a political upheaval, the people would have pulled down statues first and then plundered."
"Isn't it good that Saddam is gone?"
"He's not gone. He has broken his army down into very small groups. That's why there hasn't been a large battle. About the official state, you could say that Saddam dissolved that already in 1992 and he's built a parallel tribal structure that is totally decisive in Iraq. When the US began the war, Saddam abandoned the state completely and now depends on the tribal structure. That was why he abandoned the large cities without a fight."
"Now the US is compelled to do everything themselves because there's no political body within the country which will challenge the existing structure. The two who came in from outside the country were annihilated at once. (The reference here is to General Nazar al-Khazraji, who returned from Denmark and the Shiite Muslim leader, Abdul Majid al-Khoei.) They were cut to pieces with swords and knives by a furious crowd in Najaf because they were thought to be American puppets. According to the Danish newspaper BT, al-Khazraji was brought from Denmark to Iraq by the CIA."
"Now we have an occupying power in place in Iraq that has not said how long it intends to remain, has not given any plan for civilian rule and no date for general elections. Enormous chaos is now to be expected."
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