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Looting Erupts In Iraq

Iraqis loot refrigerators, ceiling fans, a mirror, and a chicken mask from the drama department of a college of Literature in Basra, Iraq as coalition forces moved to take possession of the city Monday, April 7, 2003.
AP
From palace ashtrays and pillows to jeeps and a grand piano, the spoils of war are flying fast in Iraq. Civilians have plundered with little fear of retribution and some U.S. soldiers have helped themselves to battlefield souvenirs - a practice that could land them in trouble.

Looting has flared in nearly lawless Iraq as coalition forces wipe out the forces of President Saddam Hussein and his ruling Baath Party infrastructure. Opportunists have seized whatever they can - looking for an easy windfall, revenge against the regime or even battlefield mementos.

After a tank battle in the town of Az Zubayr, Iraqis leisurely picked through government offices, stealing radios, metal bed frames and an air conditioner. Others made off with a military jeep.

In the nearby city of Basra, townspeople raided the offices of the Central Bank, streaming out with chairs, tables and carpets. Looters at the Sheraton Hotel loaded sofas into horse-drawn carts, and even wheeled the hotel's grand piano down a street.

But Iraqis aren't alone in seizing the moment. During the march on Baghdad, U.S. troops have nicked items of their own, despite military rules forbidding it.

On Monday, troops from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division stormed one of Iraq's presidential palaces. They used Saddam's toilets, but also rifled through documents and helped themselves to ashtrays, pillows, gold-painted Arab glassware and other souvenirs.

A U.S. Central Command spokesman, Navy Ensign David Luckett, said the command hadn't heard such reports through military channels but condemned the behavior, which is prohibited under U.S. military law.

"We are making great efforts to preserve the natural resources of Iraq and any of the belongings of the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people," Luckett said.

Marine Capt. Stewart Upton, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Qatar, said troops suspected of looting would be first reprimanded by field officers and ordered to return the items. Penalties under military law could include a reduction in pay or even prison time.

"We expect our officers, our military, our coalition forces to conduct themselves in an honorable manner," Upton said.

Coalition troops most often find themselves trying to prevent looting by Iraqis. But in Basra, as recently as last week, British troops were encouraging looting.

According to the Times of London, the United Nations and British commanders were at odds over the way British troops were urging Iraqis to loot symbols of Saddam's regime.

Now, British troops have stepped up patrols in Basra to restore order. U.S. commanders posted 24-our guards at Baghdad Airport's duty-free shop, to prevent the looting of alcohol.

In the war's opening days, Kurdish militiamen in northern Iraq pledged to prevent looting in areas relinquished by the Iraqis. But those good intentions unraveled last week.

Thousands of Kurds swarmed abandoned Iraqi bunkers and barracks near Kalaka in a free-for-all that the Kurdish militia made no attempt to halt. Among the participants was Ishmail Hasan, who loaded his motorcycle sidecar with chairs, cooking pots, car batteries and a plastic foam cooler.