Basra Collapses Into Death, Disorder

BASRA, Iraq – They died in the mud at the edge of a pond – a dozen
paramilitary fighters with rocket-propelled grenades, rifles and

Some were Iraqis. Others came from Syria and Saudi Arabia. One of
them, making this last stand for Saddam Hussein, apparently had
tried to sleep, burrowing into a berm.

Bullets tore into them, a head here, thigh there, chest, neck. Now
Iraqi Red Crescent volunteers wearing plastic gloves, mouths and
noses covered, waded into the mud and lifted out the bloated

These men are “martyrs,” said Enas, 24, a schoolteacher who
helped lug a bloodstained stretcher. “They were resisting,” she
said. “My heart is broken for these dead soldiers.”

Monday brought many sorry scenes like this, as coalition tanks and
paratroopers punched into the heart of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest

While the Red Crescent workers loaded their dead onto a pickup,
British soldiers nearby lay on their bellies. “Apparently there’s
mortars coming in,” Rob Hammond, 26, said as he flattened himself
at the side of the road.

The British targeted local militiamen, “small bands but vicious
when they catch you,” said British army Sgt. Maj. Pat Geraghty,
37, standing nearby after ordering a bulldozer to raze an empty

The dozen fighters who died by the pond were typical of the
trouble, Geraghty said. British troops captured an Algerian among
them, he said, as well as an Iraqi who pretended to be dead. Red
Crescent workers said the dead also included Saudis and Syrians.

Geraghty, too, was heartbroken Monday. “I lost two of me boys,”
he said softly.

Tanks roared. At noon, two Cobra helicopters clattered overhead,
“a fly-by to see if they can see anything we can’t,” said U.S.
Marine Cpl. Steve Salicos, gripping his black M-16, moving on the
ground past a defaced portrait of Hussein. Troops advanced across
the city, then focused on mop-up patrols across a landscape of
black smoke plumes, rubble, and twisted Iraqi tanks and trucks.

Basra, population 1.3 million, more or less fell by sunset. Where
the city will ultimately land is the question. Residents erupted in
a frenzy of looting – gutting their university, oil ministry and
premier hotel at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Law
and order no longer seemed to matter.

Inside the University of Basra, men and boys scavenged through
shattered glass and flames. Portraits of Hussein were defaced.
Marauders snatched swivel chairs, shelves, appliances – almost
anything of value down to wood. Ali Hatu, 31, opened a white sack
showing empty soft drink bottles and blue curtains.

Some looters rode in from surrounding farm towns. One farmer
whipped his white donkey, towing a refrigerator on his tiny cart.
At Basra’s fanciest hotel, once a Sheraton, black smoke billowed
from the back. A smiling man strode away from the entrance carrying
a large satellite dish on his head.

Retired Iraqi Petroleum Co. manager Amir Humadi, 67, concentrated
on finding a new house. After 40 years supervising shipping, he’d
never been given a house or car. Hussein’s elite, “they always
have a good house, a car, a comfortable life,” Humadi said.

But two years ago, when he retired, he moved his family from Basra
west to dusty Zubayr. His son-in-law had to move to Germany for
work to support the family.

Now Humadi was determined to put things right. He found and
occupied “a big house, a company house,” he declared proudly. “I
am entitled.”

The man next door had done the same. Now this “neighbor”
hopefully would watch Humadi’s place while he rushed home to
persuade his wife and daughter to move. “I told the neighbor to
keep an eye out,” Humadi said as he searched for a ride to

Iraqis here generally welcomed the British-U.S. takeover. A few
carried flowers and confetti.

Some whispered messages to visitors: “Saddam Hussein is a son of a
bitch,” one said – reluctant to identify themselves fully because
loyalists still control pockets of the city.

“Saddam Hussein killed my two brothers and father,” said Mohamad,
28. “And he cut my ears.” He slowly lowered a tightly wrapped
head scarf to show the gashes – a common punishment for army

Then Mohamad pulled from his back pocket some photos. They showed
dead bodies, burned, flayed. “Look!” One photo showed three
smiling men at a banquet table. “Look! The militia of Saddam.”

Troops said imposing law and order here could be hard.

“This is wrong. It isn’t civilized, is it?” said British
infantryman Bruce De’ath, 21, on patrol just west of the

Early in the day, a boy with a burned face sought help from British
paratrooper Matthew Penney, 29. The memory of that boy lingered
with Penney, he said, as he led Monday’s push with other
paratroopers, murmuring into their microphones, stopping at
intersections and looking into their telescopic rifle sites in
search of militiamen.

“These things happen,” he said of the child.

And some Iraqis acknowledged the ugliness during what could have
been a day of pure celebration.

“Life now will be better, because we have freedom now. I feel
sorry for the dead, and I am against this stealing,” said Mohamad
al-Mayde, 31, a father of two. “But people here are very poor.
They are lucky to eat one meal a day. They suffer too much for
Saddam. This gives people an excuse.”