2003 May 12 Monday
Baghdad Is Still Lawless And Dangerous To Civilians

Saddam's regime fell on April 7. Baghdad and much of the rest of Iraq is still lawless over a month later. The Bush Administration is not acting in a responsible fashion to restore order in Iraq.

Reports of rapes, holdups and murders are multiplying citywide, in both poor and upscale districts. In this city of 5 million, the dearth of police is a fundamental problem, but certainly not the only one: Electrical power, gasoline, clean water and medical supplies remain unavailable or out of reach for many residents. The looting that broke out after the fall of Baghdad was a harbinger of a slow devolution into fear and despair, especially after dark, especially for women.

The criminally insane that are roaming the streets are certainly making a bad situation worse.

In the maximum security section of the mental hospital, 250 of the most dangerous criminally insane of Iraq were incarcerated. On the night of April 8 the looters made off with the door of this section, allowing the inmates to simply walk out.

The Baghdad police are so powerless that they still can not defend their own police station.

Even the police headquarters itself is not entirely secure. Wednesday evening, looters were seen stripping a building at the rear of the compound. The Iraqi police called in a contingent of U.S. military police, stationed across the street. The soldiers caught five of the men.

What possible excuse is there for this state of affairs? The US has had plenty of time to send in more troops. The US could have trained replacement police in the Kurdish region before the war. The US could have recruited police from friendly Arab states such as Jordan and Morocco.

The callous triumphalism of some rah rah hawk commentators makes me ill. This lawlessness undermines the achievement of the goal of building a secular democracy in Iraq. It makes Arabs in neighboring states think that the United States does not care about the Iraqis. It is stupid. The United States is being stupid in Iraq.

The first rationalization for the looting was that it was all just a letting off of steam over anger at Saddam Hussein's regime. The looting was directed at government buildings and so wasn't supposed to be anything to get upset about. But the criminality has spread into residential neighborhoods and includes rape gangs and carjackers.

While the major looting that followed the fall of Baghdad has tapered off, it has been replaced by more calculated crimes -- kidnapping, carjacking and home invasion robberies. Baghdad residents have set up 24-hour guards at their houses. They drive their children to and from school and carry loaded weapons.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld is rejecting the criticism that is being levelled in his direction. Rumsfeld says the aftermath was bound to be untidy.

The other thing I'd do, just to put a little perspective on it, is it's been 51 days since the war started. I mean, ask ourselves, each of us, what have we accomplished in 51 days? No, that's embarrassing, I shouldn't do that to you! (Laughs.) That would be wrong. (Laughter.) But 51 days is not very long. And I think that the reality is that it is a very difficult transition from despotism and repression to a freer system. It's untidy, it is -- it is -- there will be fits and starts, and a couple of steps forward and a step back. There'll be bumps along the way.

And it strikes me that what it requires is for people to be realistic; to look at other countries that have made that transition and ask how was that done, how long did it take, how difficult was it, how untidy was it? And recognize that this country does not have a history of representative or democratic systems; it's going to take some time and it's going to take some patience. And we accept that, and we're there to create an environment where that process can take place. And we have patience, and we accept the fact that it's untidy. And I hope that others can recognize that and accept it and put it into some historical context.

News flash for you Donny: It would have been a lot less untidy if you had put as much effort into planning for the aftermath of the invasion as you did into the invasion itself. You could have sent over enough soldiers to be able to stomp down on the looting as soon as it started. If order had been established initially it would have been much easier to maintain it. Anyone familiar with the "Broken Windows" theory of policing could explain it to you. Go ask James Q. Wilson what you are doing wrong.

The excuse that the war has been over for such a short period of time misses the point: Just as the US is able to prosecute wars much more quickly it also ought to be able to restore order very quickly. But to restore order requires more boots on the ground than a war does and Rumsfeld did not want to send over that many troops. The problem is that the Bush Administration did not want to commit a large ground force for peacekeeping. When Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki told Congress a larger peacekeeping force would be needed Rumsfeld slapped down Shinseki for suggesting such an idea.

When Shinseki suggested this year that it might take "several hundred thousand" troops to occupy Iraq, he was rebuked by the Pentagon as being "wildly off the mark." About 125,000 U.S. ground troops are in Iraq, a figure the Pentagon hopes to drastically reduce in the coming months.

Had it been done right with a larger ground force then once order had been established and a new police force was developed the larger ground force could have been scaled back. There would not have been this period of such lawlessness. But the Bush Administration chose a force size that is allowing the criminals to prey on the innocent in Iraq.

The US needs to round up the 100,000 criminals that Saddam released from prison before the war started.

It was clearly not in the ORHA's plans to face the 100,000 criminals let out of jail by Saddam in the run-up to the war, nor the remnants of the Saddam regime. Mr Bremer will have an easier task than Gen Garner. As he is superior to the military, he will be able to tell the generals where to put their tanks and which buildings to guard.

To round up 100,000 criminals would be a big job under much more favorable circumstances. But with so few police and so few troops available to do policing the US is not even in a position to start doing that.

Update: The lawlessness increases the appeal of political Muslim clerics such as Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim who drew a crowd of 60,000 on Saturday in Samawa Iraq.

Ayatollah al-Hakim’s choice of words is revealing. His rhetoric is a lilting, nuanced delivery that builds to a crescendo of finger-stabbing that has provoked crowds to the traditional Shia response of beating their chest in unison, creating an effect akin to drums of war. Motifs repeated throughout speeches on the trail are: Islam, democracy, Sharia (Islamic law), unity, freedom and tolerance of other religions.

Tellingly, he insists repeatedly that Iraqis can “secure” and “rebuild” their own country — one reference a swipe at coalition forces for failing to stop looting, the other a message that General Jay Garner’s Organisation for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance is not needed in Iraq.

Update II: Al Rashad state hospital in Baghdad has lost 800 of 1100 patients and some are quite dangerous.

The marines broke the door down on the maximum security wing, and in no time the patients were gone, untethered from the antipsychotic drugs that stabilized many of them. One doctor said he was told by a Marine officer that the officer was there to "liberate and then leave."

Update III: As one region of Baghdad has come be known to US soldiers as "Looterville" US officials admit they need more troops to maintain order.

BAGHDAD, May 12 -- Baghdad residents and U.S. officials said today that U.S. occupation forces are insufficient to maintain order in the Iraqi capital and called for reinforcements to calm a wave of violence that has unfurled over the city, undermining relief and reconstruction efforts and inspiring anxiety about the future.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 May 12 02:00 AM  Reconstruction and Reformation


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