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Rumsfeld: Looting is transition to freedom

By PAMELA HESS, UPI Pentagon Correspondent   |   April 11, 2003 at 5:53 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 11 (UPI) -- U.S. forces should not be blamed for the lawlessness and looting in Baghdad as it is a natural consequence of the transition from a dictatorship to a free country, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday at the Pentagon.

"The task we've got ahead of us now is an awkward one ... It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here," Rumsfeld said.

"And for suddenly the biggest problem in the world to be looting is really notable."

Rumsfeld said he believes time will take care of the problem in Baghdad, as it seems to have in the southern cities of Umm Qasr and Basra, where looting has largely abated and the streets are back under relative control.

In Qatar on Friday, U.S. military officials said U.S. forces do not intend to crack down on looting in Iraq because it might alienate the Iraqi people they are trying to win over.

"If the coalition simply imposed control on the population, that wouldn't achieve the desired effect. We wouldn't be everywhere and we might also alienate a population that doesn't need to have another regime with a grip around its neck," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a Central Command spokesman.

The Pentagon is coming under increasing criticism from human rights groups who say looted hospitals are unable to treat patients, food and water cannot be delivered because the streets are unsafe, and the population is in danger from unchecked fires and criminal violence.

The Geneva Convention holds occupying powers responsible for maintaining law and order.

"We do feel an obligation to assist in providing security, and the coalition forces are doing that. They're patrolling in various cities. Where they see looting, they're stopping it, and they will be doing so," Rumsfeld said.

However, U.S military officials say the war is still very much a hot one. Forces must focus on vanquishing the last vestiges of the regime before they can turn their attention to policing, they say.

Rumsfeld conceded one of the problems with the looting is that government offices are being ransacked and burned -- and with the looters go important documents that could be used to track down people, weapons and possibly missing prisoners of war.

Amnesty International called on the United States and United Kingdom to deploy more troops to secure the cities beyond the 125,000 who are already in the country, many of them still engaged in combat operations. AI warned of reprisal attacks against members of the Baath party and Republican Guard and their families.

Rumsfeld seems to be taking a hands-off approach to that possibility.

"While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime," he said. "And I don't think there's anyone in any of those pictures ... (who wouldn't) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom."

Rumsfeld said in the United States there has been looting and riots and they eventually come under control.

"Think what's happened in our cities when we've had riots and problems and looting. Stuff happens!"

AI said Friday the climate of lawlessness might have led to the April 10 slaying of a senior Shiite religious leader, Abd al-Majid al-Khoei, who was stabbed to death at Imam 'Ali mosque in al-Najaf. Two others were killed: Maher al-Yassiri, an aide of al-Khoei, and Hayder al-Rafi'i, another religious leader in al-Najaf.

Abd al-Majid al-Khoei had arrived in al-Najaf a few days earlier from the United Kingdom. He wasn't under U.S. forces' protection.

"As with many other cases, we do not want to impose ourselves on behaviors that are occurring within the Iraqi population. We want to cooperate with the Iraqi population. And so the security that he had was his own in this case," Brooks said.

Rumsfeld was unusually exercised about critical press coverage of the lawlessness that seems to be gripping Baghdad, saying coverage is repetitive and distorts what's really going on.

"I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny –- 'The sky is falling.' I've never seen anything like it!" Rumsfeld exclaimed. "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases?'"

Brooks said reports of looting at hospitals appear to be overstated, noting there are more than 100 hospitals in Baghdad and looting is confirmed at one of them. AI cited at least one other hospital that has been looted.

"We think that this is a very, very small representation that's getting probably more attention than it deserves. Nevertheless, it is putting some hospitals at risk and creates a consequence and a hazard for members of the population who are injured," he said.

Rumsfeld said U.S. forces are beginning to protect hospitals and helping to enforce a curfew.

Brooks said the coalition is doing what it can to create calm.

"In some cases, it may require shooting machine guns in downtown. At no point do we see really becoming a police force," Brooks said.

In Basra, British forces foiled the looting of a bank over the past two days by using their guns.

"Some bank robbers entered into an area and they were halted by coalition forces. They continued moving and drew weapons and they were shot. Looting went down a lot in Basra," Brooks reported.

Brooks said the coalition is eager for the Iraqis to provide for their own security.

"The Iraqi population itself will determine what's appropriate behavior over time," he said.

Nevertheless, Brooks said the coalition can not trust local police to do the job.

"Simply putting police back on the street would not be an acceptable answer. In fact, when we entered the city, we found that there were police radios that we'd captured, and the police were calling for ... indirect fire in support of the regime. So putting the police back on is not an easy solution for us," he said.

Rumsfeld said many local police fled the cities because they knew there would be popular reprisals against them as they were once enforcers for Saddam Hussein's regime.

"We haven't gone in and done away with any police. In fact, we're looking for police in those villages and towns who can, in fact, assist in providing order, to the extent there are people who can do it in a manner that's consistent with our values," he said.

As in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said the solution to security is going to have to come from within Iraq.

"The Iraqi people are going to have to do this, in the last analysis. We can help, and we want to create an environment that is as secure as possible and that is as stable as possible so that they can find their sea legs, if you will, and get themselves on a path to the future," he said.

Part of that process is tracking down the people on a Pentagon "black list" who will be subject to pursuit, capture or death.

"We consider them all to be legitimate military targets," Brooks said.

The U.S. military has produced a deck of 55 cards identifying by name and photo the "most wanted" Iraqi officials. The cards are being distributed to soldiers and Marines to help them get Iraqis to provide information on their whereabouts, Brooks said. The faces and names will also be published on posters and handbills.

The United States is offering financial rewards and other enticements to get information regarding the whereabouts of the 55 and information on chemical and biological weapons.

"We've also said that if people have spotty backgrounds, assisting us might make their futures brighter," Rumsfeld said.

He said the only way suspected "weapons of mass destruction" will be found –- one of the primary reasons for the war -- is if people come forward with information, enticed with money or promises of leniency.

"Are we going to find (the weapons)? No. It's a big country. What we're going to do is we're going to find the people who will tell us that, and we're going to find ways to encourage them to tell us that," he said.

An Abrams tank in Baghdad rolled over a remotely detonated mine Friday, the first of its kind encountered in Iraq, a U.S. Army official confirmed. CNN reported that one soldier was killed in the attack.

The mine confirms what the military had known: There remains lethal if unorganized resistance in Baghdad, an official said. A Marine was killed in a firefight Thursday near a mosque and more were injured.

On Thursday, special operations forces entered the Abu Gharib jail in Baghdad, a facility that can hold up to 15,000 people. It was empty, and Brooks suggested the prisoners had been released and might be behind some of the lawlessness in the city.

Also, a coalition special operations commander accepted a cease-fire agreement from the regular army Iraqi 5th Corps commander near Mosul.

"The forces up there essentially capitulated, left their equipment in place and just left," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon Friday.

Special operations forces also accepted the surrender of an Iraqi colonel who was responsible for border control points on Highway 11, which leads to Syria and has been a route for smuggling, as well as Highway 10, Brooks said.

"And he turned over the keys to the border control point at Highway 11. The coalition now controls that border crossing point," he said.

On Highway 1, which runs north from Tikrit, special forces engaged in a firefight and later discovered five small airplanes hidden under camouflage Thursday. All five aircraft were destroyed, Brooks said.

Members of the 173 Airborne Brigade have secured four gas-oil separation plants and several wells in the northern oil fields around Kirkuk.

The United States began sending world news TV broadcasts in Arabic on Friday into Iraq, using military rather than Iraqi broadcast capabilities. Radio broadcasts continue 24 hours a day.

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