| A looter tears an Iraqi bank note featuring Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. (AFP)
Baghdad, April 12 (Reuters): With gunfire crackling through the streets of Baghdad and men toting AK-47 assault rifles loitering at junctions, a band of Iraqi looters set an audacious trap yesterday.
Two double-decker buses were carefully positioned to seal off a 200-yard stretch of one of the capital’s main highways to serve as impassable buffers on either side of a slip road. When we drove blindly into Baghdad, this trap was all but sprung. We found ourselves caught between the buses and surrounded by looters, a few of them carrying AK-47s.
By chance, four American Abrams main battle tanks chose that moment to rumble into view. For a few vital seconds, the gang’s attention was distracted and our quick-thinking Jordanian driver executed a brisk U-turn, saving us from joining the countless victims of Baghdad’s looting frenzy.
Beyond an isolated web of American checkpoints, Baghdad has lost every vestige of order and safety. The streets are wreathed in black smoke from buildings still burning after air raids and almost the only vehicles in evidence are those driven by the looters.
Yet there is a more sinister aspect to the breakdown of law and order. In Baghdad’s suburb of Qadimiya, two Iraqis overlooked one junction with mounted machineguns. Others walked the streets with rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Inside Baghdad, the Americans have strong points on key junctions and control a heavily guarded enclave in the heart of the capital. Beyond this narrow chain of order, anarchy is the only ruler.
Inside the American zone, Baghdad has changed beyond recognition. The streets are filled with US military hardware but the soldiers are relaxed and good-humoured.
In the bar of the Palestine Hotel, several officials from Saddam’s now defunct information ministry share cups of tea with soldiers from the invading “imperialist” army. Tariq Aziz, the former deputy Prime Minister, once said every Iraqi man, woman and child would fight the Americans “with bricks and bottles”. His former officials have adjusted to Iraq’s new reality with remarkable speed.