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Iraq: Troops To Use 'Muscle' As Security Problems Top U.S. Concerns In Baghdad

  • Charles Recknagel

Since U.S. troops took Baghdad more than one month ago, security has been a persistent problem in the capital, particularly at night. Now, U.S. officials are promising to send more troops to secure neighborhoods and to help crack down on criminality. As RFE/RL reports, the move comes amid fears that the security problem is slowing U.S. efforts to win the confidence of the Iraqi population for the difficult transition period ahead.

Prague, 15 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Restoring security has again risen to the top of America's priorities in Iraq as U.S. officials promise to crack down hard on gangs of looters and criminals, which continue to flourish in postwar Baghdad.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a U.S. Senate committee yesterday that U.S. forces in the capital will begin using what he called "muscle" to stop people from disrupting security there.

Rumsfeld was speaking to the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee during talks on the Pentagon's fiscal 2004 budget request. He said U.S. troops will ensure that violators are either "captured or killed."

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

In his testimony before the Senate committee in Washington, Rumsfeld said that two-thirds to three-quarters of Baghdad is "stable." But he rejected any characterization of the situation in Baghdad as "chaos" or "anarchy."

"I think the characterization of anarchy is not accurate. It's a headline writer's phrase. We were told today that maybe two-thirds to three-quarters of the city is stable," he said.

Rumsfeld spoke as press reports from Baghdad in recent days have highlighted continuing lawlessness. Correspondents report that more than one month after coalition forces took the city, looting, arson, and shooting remain frequent in some neighborhoods. Homes, offices, and institutions are broken into, particularly at night, and thieves are often armed with automatic weapons.

The instability is hampering international relief efforts. Some agencies refuse to bring in supplies until warehouses can be secured. One private aid group, CARE, has seen one of its warehouse guards shot and two vehicles stolen. The Baghdad representative of the UN children's agency, UNICEF, told "The Washington Post" today that the inability of U.S. forces to provide security is endangering the lives of more than 300,000 Iraqi children.

There have been conflicting reports this week as to whether the U.S. administration in Iraq now has decided to shoot looters on sight. "The New York Times" reported yesterday that the new U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, is preparing a series of special security measures, including authorizing soldiers to shoot people ransacking private and public buildings.

But the U.S. land forces commander for Iraq, U.S. Army Lieutenant General David McKiernan, said last night that the soldiers' rules of engagement -- which govern when they can fire -- have not been changed. U.S. soldiers are currently forbidden to shoot unless their own lives are in danger.

In a new development in the security situation in Baghdad, U.S. commanders last night also said they now believe the violence in the capital is increasingly the work of organized groups.

General Buford Blount III, commander of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, told reporters in Baghdad that some of the marauders appear to be bands of men loyal to toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He said they ambush U.S. soldiers on patrol at night and appear intent on destroying repairs made to Iraq's damaged infrastructure in an effort to discredit the U.S. presence.

Analysts say the need to restore full security in Baghdad is growing more urgent as the violence undermines the confidence of ordinary Iraqis in U.S.-led efforts to create a new post-Saddam Hussein order. The U.S. administration in Iraq hopes to quickly revive the economy and bring tens of thousands of professionals back to work as a first step toward rebuilding Iraq as a more democratic state.

Falih Abdul Jabbar, a sociologist at London University, told RFE/RL the insecurity in Baghdad and other key Iraqi cities is keeping most professionals from venturing far from their own neighborhoods, which they must guard themselves.

Jabbar said that is not only preventing Iraq's professional class from returning to work but also from beginning to organize the kind of broad-based, mainstream political parties that any democratic system needs to function.

"There are secular, modern forces in abundance [among the Iraqi professional class], but they are frightened. They are civil. They don't act in a moblike fashion. They don't take to the streets with Kalashnikovs in their arms. And when they see such a thing, they won't move," he said.

The analyst said that so long as security remains a problem, political momentum among Iraqi groups is likely to remain in the hands of parties identified with protecting specific interests.

The leading Iraqi political players today are five groups which the U.S. has said will be included in a domestic leadership forum scheduled to begin functioning next month. The five comprise two former exile secular organizations -- the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord -- the former exile Shi'ite-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and the two main Iraqi Kurdish parties.

U.S. officials have said the domestic leadership body, whose future powers remain unclear, also will include anti-Hussein Iraqi leaders and religious figures who did not leave the country.

In an effort to rebuild security in Baghdad and restore civic life, U.S. officials are seeking to rebuild the city's police force -- which once numbered some 20,000 officers. But the effort is being slowed by the need to screen officers to assure that those with strong loyalties to the former ruling Ba'ath Party are excluded.

"The Washington Times" reported today that fewer than 7,000 officers have returned to work so far and that the police department remains leaderless after an interim chief recently quit, less than one week into the job. He did not publicly detail the reasons for his resignation.

Bremer, the new civilian administrator for Iraq, has said he will focus in the coming days on retraining police officers and bolstering the country's flagging court system.

Bremer was appointed one week ago to head civilian affairs in Iraq, a post previously held by retired U.S. Army Major General Jay Garner. Bremer's arrival in Baghdad has fueled press speculation that Garner is being replaced for failing to make rapid progress in restoring order and government services to the city of some 5 million people.

U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld yesterday denied that Garner is being replaced or that any "shake-up" has taken place in the U.S. civil administration for Iraq. He told the Senate committee that "from the very outset, it was clearly understood that at some point a senior civilian would be brought in, and Ambassador Bremer is that individual.... There is no shake-up."