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Iraq: Anatomy Of A Looting -- The Sacking Of Saddam Hussein's Sister's House

  • Zamira Eshanova

Looting is still a problem in many Iraqi cities following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime three weeks ago. RFE/RL correspondent Zamira Eshanova witnessed the looting and its aftermath, yesterday, of the house of Saddam's sister in a wealthy section of Baghdad.

Baghdad, 29 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The residents of Baghdad's upscale Al-Jadiriya area spent a turbulent night yesterday filled with the sound of machine-gun fire.

Many residents were afraid to venture out that night, but in the morning the reason for the gunfire was clear. Hundreds of looters had descended on one of the most beautiful homes in the district -- the house of Saddam Hussein's sister and her husband, retired General Arsheed Yasin. Yasin's neighbors had been firing machine guns all night to keep looters out of their own houses.

News of the looting quickly spread to different areas of the city, and by 8 a.m., trucks, wagons, and cars were rushing to the house to see what else could be taken.

Inside the mansion -- once filled with antique furniture, carpets, and porcelain -- dozens of men, women, and children were grasping at everything they could find. They were pushing each other and trying to carry impossibly heavy pieces of furniture, chandeliers, and anything else that was not bolted down.

Meanwhile, next-door neighbors -- like 20-year-old Ahmad -- looked on in shock and horror. "These people are savages. This is something I can't describe. It is a shame for Iraqis. We don't have Iraqis who do that. I wasn't brought up to do these things. These are very, very poor people; they have never seen these things in their lives," Ahmad said.

But another young man -- a looter who did not give his name -- said he did not feel ashamed of his actions. In fact, quite the opposite -- he said he is only stealing goods that were stolen in the first place. "No, no, no 'haram.' This is not 'haram' because these [things belong to] the Iraqi people. This house, there is more, more of these things. In Iraq we haven't any of these things," he said.

Some of Yasin's neighbors blame the U.S. military for, they said, encouraging this looting and other lootings in Baghdad. "I live in this area. These people were taking care of this home for a long time. And then the American army hit and broke the door and they asked 'Ali-baba' to go inside the home. These [looters] are from another area. I can guarantee that," one neighbor said.

He said while the looting was going on, the neighbors sent several men to a nearby U.S. military patrol, but the men returned with news that the Americans were "too busy" to help.

The U.S. eventually did come -- at around 5 p.m. the next day -- but it was too late. The house had been turned into a garbage dump, full of broken glass, porcelain, and pieces of broken furniture.

U.S. Sergeant Molina, a member of a U.S. Army patrol unit, denied accusations the U.S. encouraged the looting. He said the U.S. Army is simply not able guard each house and that the Iraqi people should prevent looting on their own. "The U.S. is working with the Iraqi people to stop lootings, we work very hard. We work when Iraqi people come with us; we come over and help them so they can stop looting in their area," Molina said.

While many of Yasin's neighbors remain unconvinced by the American explanation, at least some point to a different culprit. Dr. Ziyad said he believes the looting is the result of overwhelming hatred for the Saddam regime that has translated into a mass rampage. "What [do the lootings] say? It says greed is ever- [present]. It says deprivation and lack of law -- combined with extreme poverty and a loss of moral sense -- is extremely prevalent in our country, not only in our country, but in the whole world," he said.

At the end of the day, Molina and his fellow soldiers try to comfort the residents of the Al-Jadiriya area. They say the lootings in the area have stopped and there is no reason to be afraid. But the people remain skeptical. They say that in the coming nights they will be sleeping with their guns.