Iraqis Look to GIs for Stability

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqis from the hinterlands to the capital are
seizing their new freedom – children swiveling on abandoned
anti-aircraft guns, former prisoners unburdening themselves of
torture under Saddam Hussein, families contemplating travel.

But a three-day journey through Iraq’s populated center also
reveals a growing dependence on the U.S. military to stop a slide
into anarchy.

“We don’t trust the United Nations. We trust the Americans,” said
Sami Abdullah, 60, a hotel manager.

On Saturday, U.S. troops struggled to restore order. Iraqi forces
in a three-story building fired across the Tigris River at a Marine
camp. Cpls. Tyler Dekarske and Richard Keever raced to return fire,
backed up by tanks. “They can still kill Marines,” Keever said.
“And the looting is getting more intense.”

But the feeling is still jubilation for the most part.

Shopkeeper Wathq Jasim, 32, climbed to the top of a heap of rubble
from a bombed prison and found a gray metal door he knows too well.
He was imprisoned behind it for 16 months.

Hussein’s agents jailed Jasim along with other Shiite Muslims
accused of gathering illegally to pray. He said he was tortured –
with electrical wires attached to his toes and genitals, and his
toenails were ripped out. Guards slid food through a square hole in
the door. Now, he tapped it.

“I really hate this door!” he said. He ripped off a loose handle
and threw it down hard against the metal – clapping like a

“Free!” he declared.

But many Iraqis now demand a more active U.S. role ensuring

“There is robbery; there is shooting. Why don’t you Americans stop
this?” implored Abdul Al-Stan, 40, a trader who had just sped his
maroon BMW through crossfire.

U.S. commanders respond with an exhausted call for Iraqis to think
about taking care of themselves. “How are 40 of us going to stop
all this?” said Marine Master Sgt. Scott McCullough, 38, as crowds
converged on either side of a bridge over the Tigris River where he
stood. Opening the bridge would only enable more looting, he knew,
but that was his order.

Few Iraqis on Saturday had ready ideas for setting up their own
police and government. “That’s up to God,” said bakery owner Emad
Al-Sada, facing a line of customers.

Americans “will either have to leave us lawless like this or
organize everything for us,” said mattress factory worker Mohamad
Rethaly, 53.

Some fled south. “Baghdad no good now. There’s nothing: water,
food, light,” said Abdul Kareem, 45, as his son, Haidar, 13,
siphoned gas from an oil tanker while an oil fire flared nearby.

Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S.- backed maneuvers toward establishing an
interim authority were cloaked in secrecy. At a military camp
outside Nasiriyah, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi and
other opposition leaders apparently have gathered.

Marine Lt. Col. Royal Mortenson, who led the U.S. push north of the
Euphrates River, said his 850 men are finding huge weapons caches –
one so big, with French- and Italian-made mines, that destroying it
will require three weeks of work by ordnance teams.

And almost every small town has a clique of Hussein loyalists lying
low, Mortenson said.

“We can’t be in every town all the time,” he said. Iraqis “have
got to police themselves.”

None of the institutions that stabilize life is functioning. Fires
set by looters burn for hours. Schools are closed. Hospitals have
been ransacked.

Children probably won’t attend any more school this year, said
Balkis Agali, 42, a mother of four who lives on the outskirts of
Baghdad. She and her three daughters and son huddled together on a
foam pad in the central room of their house during the heavy
bombing last week. Pots and containers are filled with water. Sacks
of flour and rice sit in a hallway with a newly acquired gas

Agali counts on getting work at a business center. In the meantime,
she had draped blankets over her prized possession, a silver
Peugeot sedan she worked long hours to afford. Agali also carries a

Her family would leave their home in a minute if they could gain
passage to Europe, Agali said. Her sister lives in Denmark. She
wonders about the border to Syria, whether Europeans would accept
Iraqis as refugees and whether her children, who have no passports,
can travel. “We are not safe here,” she said. “We just want a
stable life.”

U.S. officials long have promised to help re-establish order in
Iraq by sending experts. None are visible. The group the Bush
administration has appointed to run a postwar civilian
administration still works mostly from luxury suites along the
Persian Gulf in Kuwait.

“Why do American soldiers just guard the oil wells? Why didn’t
they guard this hospital?” said Salam Kazim, 40, a primary school
teacher. He pointed at the elite Olympic Hospital – run by one of
Hussein’s sons, Odai – now ransacked down to the water faucets
ripped out of walls. “We want to like the American people. But we
want the soldiers in every square now to guard things.”

The problem is that most Iraqis see no other option but to

A dozen men parked their cars outside a looted military office in
south Baghdad. They climbed to a roof where, after pulling back
sandbags, they found a hidden petroleum tanker – a secret military
supply of fuel. They dipped plastic containers in barehanded,
filling them, then siphoned the gas using hoses to fill their car

“We don’t want to steal. We don’t really know how to steal. We
want to work,” said Ala Abdul Kader, 42, a mechanic.

“But I ate no breakfast today.”