Sat, Jul 12, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Post-war mayhem stirs resentment in capital of Iraq

YANKEE GO HOME The rising sense of insecurity in Baghdad is leaving its residents less interested in their new-found liberty than they are about safety


A US Army soldier checks an alleged thief for signs of life after he was shot by a private security guard during a house robbery in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad yesterday. Iraqi police, backed by US troops, rushed to a house in a central Baghdad neighborhood after receiving a call that two men had broken into a house and were beating its occupants.


An odd, green metal sculpture, apparently symbolizing peace, now adorns the plinth from which US marines pulled former president Saddam Hussein's statue three months ago. Below it, someone has daubed a misspelt message to the Americans: "All donne, go home."

Though few expect the advice to be taken, and many Iraqis say they would be anxious if the Americans did decide to pull out immediately, the US has squandered most of the credit it enjoyed at that symbolic moment of liberation.

One exception is the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where more than 4 million Kurds are more pro-American than they were before. But elsewhere in Iraq, relief that the terror and arbitrariness of the old regime were over quickly evaporated in the postwar chaos. Two American soldiers were killed on Wednesday, bringing the total number of US combat deaths since May 1 to 31.

The violence against US and British forces suggests that the circle of people supporting the guerrilla resistance is wider than a handful of Saddam diehards. They are happening in Shia areas of Baghdad which suffered under Saddam as well as in the so-called Sunni triangle.

When attacks on Americans occur, people in the crowds which quickly gather rarely tell reporters they feel sorry for the dead young soldiers. More often, they join in a postmortem celebration of the resistance fighters' deeds.

In a typical case in central Baghdad last week when a gunman fired a grenade at a US Humvee before vanishing into the teeming backstreets, adults and children stomped on the roof of the crippled vehicle in delight before setting it on fire.

Interviewed privately, most Iraqis express horror at the attacks.

"People are being paid to do these things by former members of the Baath party. There's a rumor that there's a bounty of 5 million dinars for every American soldier killed," said Zaid Shaker, 26, who owns a grocery shop in one of Baghdad's leafier suburbs.

The US troops joined the bidding this week, announcing a reward of US$2,500 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who shot or killed a coalition soldier or an Iraqi policeman.

The shopowner's ceiling fan was idle. Tins of soft drinks in his fridge were sweating.

"After the first Gulf war in 1991 Saddam gave us electricity back quickly. Everyone's asking why the Americans can't fix it," he said.

He was delighted that the dictator had gone. The war meant he only had to serve two months in the army before running away from his unit at the start of the bombing this spring. But like most Iraqis, the daily struggle to survive dominates his life now, pushing gratitude for liberation way back in his memory.

US officials still talk in bullish tones.

"The voice of freedom is upon the land," Paul Bremer, Iraq's US administrator, declared recently. Although he admitted the number of attacks on US troops was growing, he saw this as a sign of success.

"As freedom becomes more entrenched, the few remaining individuals who cannot fit in are becoming more desperate," he said.

For most Iraqis security and normality are higher priorities than political freedom -- safety on the street and after dark, predictable supplies of electricity and water, and jobs.

While the US worries about armed attacks, Iraqis fear muggings and carjacking and the lack of law and order.

"I used to close my barber's at midnight in the summer," said Mohammed Abdul Salam, 24. "Now I have to close at 7pm. Two weeks ago when I was carrying my day's takings home, thugs surrounded me and I only just managed to escape."

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