- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

BAGHDAD — U.S. military officials yesterday blamed organized gangs affiliated with the deposed Ba’ath Party and Iranian-backed Shi’ite groups for the lawlessness sweeping the Iraqi capital and pledged to crack down on the groups.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced in Washington the deployment of an additional 15,000 to 20,000 troops to Iraq to add “muscle” to that effort.

Three weeks after coalition forces secured the city, Baghdad is still racked by looting, shooting and arson.

Homes, offices and institutions have been ransacked while arsonists routinely torch government buildings in the middle of the day. Extended families sleep with one man remaining up all night to guard against intruders.

The instability has compromised the good will of ordinary Iraqis toward U.S. forces, who are seen as impotent against the looters or, worse, unconcerned. Many Iraqis swear they have seen U.S. tanks and troops stand by as looters break into museums, libraries and schools.

While some of the chaos is the work of common criminals, Iraqis and American officials agree that organized elements increasingly are using the violence to undermine U.S. credibility.

They say the gangs are affiliated either with Saddam Hussein’s deposed Ba’ath Party or with Shi’ite groups, both of which are eager to turn Iraqi citizens against the American presence.

“There are organized elements of the former regime who want to intimidate,” said Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the overall commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. “Getting the security situation right will take time,” he said, but U.S. forces will stay in Baghdad “until a secure environment is achieved.”

In Washington, Mr. Rumsfeld told a Senate committee weighing the Defense Department’s fiscal 2004 budget request that U.S. forces will do what is necessary to create a secure environment for the reconstruction of Iraq.

“The forces there will be using muscle to see that the people who are trying to disrupt what’s taking place in that city are stopped and either captured or killed,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“The circumstances of people in that country are better than they were before the war,” he told the Appropriations defense subcommittee. “They’re going to get better every day.”

Mr. Rumsfeld and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that 15,000 to 20,000 troops from the 1st Armored Division would arrive in Iraq in the next seven to 20 days to complement more than 140,000 service members already there.

In Baghdad, military officials responded to a New York Times report that looters will be shot on sight by stressing that the rules of engagement have always permitted an armed response.

“We’re not going to shoot children,” said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, “but our soldiers have the right to defend themselves.” He said that until recently, the level of crime did not warrant shooting civilians.

U.S. military police will also intensify their training and joint patrols with Iraqi police. The 1,800 MPs working with the Baghdad police department will expand to nearly 4,000 by June, said Gen. Blount, who noted that the measure had been planned for some time.

Coalition forces are now holding 600 looters for as long as three weeks, instead of releasing them after 48 hours as was done previously. A detention facility has been set up near the airport with the capacity to expand, Gen. Blount said.

Gen. McKiernan said military planners had anticipated the looting and vandalism and said there were enough soldiers on the ground to create a secure environment.

But thievery remains a common — and often comical — sight around Baghdad.

Last week, a group of men was seen stealing office furniture by balancing it on a paddle boat. Women drifted through the teeming streets with car batteries balanced on their heads. And markets have sprung up in poor neighborhoods to sell merchandise that is plainly and unapologetically stolen.

The instability has also jeopardized relief efforts.

The U.N. World Food Program refuses to bring in emergency supplies until its warehouses can be secured, and the private organization CARE almost pulled out last week after two of its trucks were hijacked in broad daylight.

Carjackings are a new phenomenon here, as are kidnappings that have forced terrified parents to keep their girls home from school in some neighborhoods.

The police department, once a feared force of 20,000 often-corrupt officers, is now a lightly armed suggestion of its former self. Fewer than 7,000 Iraqi police officers have returned to work to find they have no patrol cars, no uniforms, no station houses and — most damagingly — no respect from the general population.

The department also is leaderless since the interim chief quit after less than a week on the job. The Americans have been unable to find a replacement with no Ba’ath Party ties.

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