Fri, May 16, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Military struggles to bring law and order to Baghdad


Under pressure to impose order on a still-lawless capital, US military commanders are defending their approach to keeping Baghdad safe and said they were "aggressively targeting" looters. But they said they would not authorize a shoot-to-kill policy.

Meanwhile, in the northern city of Mosul, the city council -- billed as postwar Iraq's first elected body -- purged Saddam Hussein's loyalists from top positions, sacking the head of the city's university and agreeing to review ties between other senior officials and the overthrown government.

In southern Iraq, British engineers said production at the Basra Oil Refinery -- the country's only working refinery -- is expected to reach prewar levels of 140,000 barrels a day by the end of May.

In Baghdad, US Major General Buford Blount III, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said that people arrested for looting in the Iraqi capital are being held for about three weeks. Previously they had been held two days.

He said a total of 600 were currently detained at a holding facility at Baghdad International Airport. Those who had committed a crime with the aid of a weapon would be detained until Iraq's judicial authorities are fully operational again and are able to take charge of them, he said.

Blount also said US forces reserved the right to protect themselves against attacks and looters.

"We're not going to go out and shoot children that are picking up a piece of wood out of a factory and carrying it away or a bag of cement," he said.

"Our soldiers have the right to defend themselves, and have. And if a looter is carrying a weapon and the soldier feels threatened, of course he is going to engage," Blount said.

In the last day or two, 200 Iraqis have been arrested for criminal acts, said Lieutenant General David McKiernan, commander of US ground forces.

Blount and McKiernan made their remarks at a joint news conference held at a conference room at Baghdad's Conventions Hall.

The room, once home to Saddam's rubber-stamp parliament, was plunged into darkness halfway through the news conference when power went out -- a reminder of the challenges in restoring services to Baghdad more than a month after the war ended.

McKiernan said overall security in the city was improving, but he acknowledged that young Iraqi males presented a security concern because of high unemployment that is feeding resentment of US forces.

He also said holdouts from Saddam's Baath party and Saddam's Fedayeen, a militia led by the former leader's son Odai, were another security threat.

McKiernan said he and L. Paul Bremer, who took over Monday as chief civilian administrator for Iraq, were working on a policy to regulate firearms in the city. He did not elaborate.

Before the news conference, local UN agency heads told Bremer in Baghdad that security must be reinforced quickly to protect food supplies and other elements of postwar recovery. The top UN humanitarian official in Baghdad said equipment at water plants, for example, remains vulnerable to gangs of thieves, threatening restoration of supplies of clean water.

"Our immediate concerns are related to security in the broad sense, law and order, not for us as persons, but for the society," Ramiro Lopes da Silva said after meeting with Bremer.

Bremer focused on a US request that an unspecified amount of Iraqi oil revenues, held in a UN-administered escrow account, be put toward buying the winter wheat and barley that Iraqi farmers are now harvesting.

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