Baghdad, April 13: The business of staffing a new Iraqi government began literally in front of American tanks yesterday. Job-seekers showed up at a hotel here, in response to a radio announcement, and a translator near the tanks ordered the men into lines: police to the right, doctors to the left. Marines set up lines for electricians, engineers, sanitation workers.
“We need new police, honest police!” shouted Magdad al-Jaburi, 45, who was seeking to reclaim the job as a police captain he said he lost 10 years ago. “A new government, a democratic government!”
Finding a new top leadership for Iraq is important, no doubt, but right now there is no one to put out the fires, stop the looters, tend to the sick and wounded or even pick up the trash piling up on the streets of this smouldering city of five million people.
The war is not over, but the residents of Baghdad are already craving everyday order - something, they say with flashes of anger, the few American Marines here just cannot provide.
“Now we are satisfied that Saddam Hussein has left,” said Firas Ibrahim, 30. “But if this situation keeps up, we will all become volunteer fidayeen,” referring to Saddam’s most loyal militia. “This situation,” he said, “is too much to bear.”
Ibrahim was standing in front of the ministry of trade in downtown Baghdad, where Saddam’s government handed out the food rations that at least 60 per cent of Iraqis — including Ibrahim - depended upon. Other ministries provided cheap gasoline, refrigerators, clothing and employment for, by one estimate, a third of Iraqis.
Yesterday, flames poured out of the ministry of trade’s windows, just one of dozens of government buildings destroyed since the fighting came to Baghdad. Looters, some of them children, hauled out everything of value. Some young people found ammunition inside, a discovery not likely to increase the prospects for order.
“Around the world, are people satisfied with this riot'” ask Hassan Adil, 37, a tailor standing under billows of smoke.
“We need electricity, water, protection from soldiers — everything,” Adil said.
Col. John Pomfret, who supervises the supply of ammunition and fuel to some 22,000 marines, said yesterday the military’s immediate goal was restoring the city’s utilities and civil order.
“We want to bring back a sense of normality here,” he said. Pomfret said the military was trying to hire Iraqi police officers as quickly as possible, and had begun interviewing and screening applicants for any association with Saddam’s government. But he said most rank-and-file police officers would probably be accepted. “We’ve talked to the local leaders,” Pomfret said. “The average police officer was OK. It was the leadership that was corrupt.”
He added that American military engineers were also moving to restore electricity and water to the city, noting that many electrical grids and pumping stations had been vandalised and were in urgent need of repair.
The colonel said the goal was to have the Iraqis lead the way in rebuilding the city, with the Americans providing expertise and materials.
“There is a vacuum right now,” he added. “We don’t want to be the established government. We don’t want to decide. We want to enable. We want to support. There has to be a level of self-determination.”
Speaking of Iraqi engineers and professionals, Pomfret said: “We don’t want to replace these people; we want to find them. If we take over the hospitals and the electrical grids, then we are running them, not the Iraqis. That’s not what we want.”
In the meantime, the colonel said, his engineers were busy purifying water and would soon begin distributing it around various parts of the city.
“Food is not a problem,” he said. “People need pure water, and they need electricity.”
As Iraq waits for water, electricity and a new government, some residents have begun policing their own neighbourhoods.
In the Adhamiya district, civilian police officers walked the streets with clubs and chained dogs.
At al Kindi hospital and the Saddam Paediatric Hospitals, neighbours and other volunteers have begun to provide armed protection against looters.
Three days ago, Haider Dauod, 30, who owns a television repair shop, went to al Kindi, one of Baghdad’s best hospitals, to give blood. When the looting began, he said he donned a blue surgical gown and began keeping guard at the front gate with a crowd of others.
For the last two nights, they have repelled
several attacks by looters.
``Our neighbours, they tell me our hospital - and I can
say it's our hospital - needs men to guard what is
left here,'' he said, against the noise of occasional
shots and explosions.
He said he was angry at his encounters with American
soldiers in the neighborhood, mentioning one Marine
who he said he had begged to guard the hospital two
``He told me the same words: He can't protect the
hospital,'' Dauod said. ``A big army like the USA Army
can't protect the hospital'''
Pomfret said the Marines were reaching out to local
leaders, mainly in the mosques. He said they were
focusing on lower-level leaders who were in touch with
their neighbourhoods. He said the effort entailed the
extensive use of Arabic translators, as there was a
realization that the Americans should not rely too
heavily on Iraqi officials just because they speak
``We are trying to take the pulse of the street,'' he
said. ``We don't want to rely only on the
English-speaking Iraqi leaders, because a lot of them
were involved in the regime.''
(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)
For their part, the Marines say they are under orders
not to stop the looting and seem mostly concerned
about their own protection, especially from the threat
of suicide bombers. The little they say they can do
amounts to handing out their own food rations, which
they say they have in such bulk in their Humvees that
it is a blessing to give it away.
``They don't really ask,'' said Lance Cpl. John
Donathan, 24, from Charlottesville, Va. ``We just give
it out. And it gives us more room.''
While the widescale looting has depressed many Iraqis,
the looters have stripped clean one of Saddam's most
notorious bureaucracies, the intelligence services,
with special glee.
``This is the secret police that captured people and
tortured them,'' said one looter, Amar Harbi, 27, a
well-spoken chemistry graduate who he said he could
never afford a computer under Saddam.
On Saturday he drove up in a truck and took off a few
computers - new ones, though damaged slightly by the
Iraq, he said, now needs a normal government and even
would like to see the secret police reconstituted.
``It's necessary,'' he said. ``But the intelligence
services should be doing things outside the country,
but not inside against their own people.''
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