How and why the US encouraged looting in Iraq


Richard Moore

From: "dnordin" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Fw: Is there no limit to their shame??  
Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2003 08:50:25 -0700
From: Inge Hanle <•••@••.•••>
To: Recipient, Undisclosed <•••@••.•••>
Date: Thursday, April 17, 2003 12:56 AM

    How and why the US encouraged looting in Iraq
    By Patrick Martin
    15 April 2003

The widespread looting in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk
and other Iraqi cities, following the collapse of the
Ba'athist regime of President Saddam Hussein, was not
merely an incidental byproduct of the US military
conquest of Iraq. It was deliberately encouraged and
fostered by the Bush administration and the Pentagon
for definite political and economic reasons.

Thousands took part in the looting in Baghdad which
began April 9, the day the Hussein government ceased to
function in the capital city. Not only were government
ministries targeted, and the homes of the Ba'athist
elite, but public institutions vital to Iraqi society,
including hospitals, schools and food distribution
centers. Equipment and parts were stripped from power
plants, thus delaying the restoration of electricity to
the city of 5 million people.

Perhaps the most devastating loss for the Iraqi people
is the ransacking of the National Museum, the greatest
trove of archeological and historical artifacts in the
Middle East. The 28 galleries of the huge museum were
picked clean by looters who made off with more than
50,000 irreplaceable artifacts, relics of past
civilizations dating back 5,000 years. The museum's
entire card catalog was destroyed, making it impossible
even to identify what has been lost.

The US military stood by and permitted the ransacking
of the museum, an incalculable blow to Iraqi and world
culture, just as they allowed and even encouraged the
looting of hospitals, universities, libraries and
government social service buildings. The occupation
forces protected only the Ministry of Oil, with its
detailed inventory of Iraqi oil reserves, as well as
the Ministry of Interior, the headquarters of the
ousted regime's secret police.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
issued a statement in Geneva declaring that the relief
agency was "profoundly alarmed by the chaos currently
prevailing in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq." The
medical system in Baghdad "has virtually collapsed,"
the ICRC warned, and it reminded the US and Britain
that they were obliged under international law to
guarantee the basic security of the Iraqi population.

General Tommy Franks, the overall commander of all US
and British forces in Iraq, issued an order to unit
commanders that specifically prohibited the use of
force to prevent looting. This instruction was only
modified after several days because of mounting
protests by Iraqi citizens over the destruction of
their social infrastructure.

The New York Times reported one such protest by an
Iraqi man who was standing guard at Al Kindi hospital
in Baghdad. Haider Daoud "said he was angry at his
encounters with American soldiers in the neighborhood,
mentioning one marine who he said he had begged to
guard the hospital two days ago. 'He told me the same
words: He can't protect the hospital,' Mr. Daoud said.
'A big army like the USA army can't protect the

The role of the US military went beyond simply standing
by, and extended to actually encouraging and
facilitating looting. According to a report in the
Washington Post, after the US military reopened two
bridges across the Tigris River to civilian traffic,
"the immediate result was that looters raced across and
extended their plundering to the Planning Ministry and
other buildings that had been spared."

Sweden's largest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, published
an interview April 11 with a Swedish researcher of
Middle Eastern ancestry who had gone to Iraq to serve
as a human shield. Khaled Bayoumi told the newspaper,
"I happened to be right there just as the American
troops encouraged people to begin the plundering."

He described how US soldiers shot security guards at a
local government building on Haifa Avenue on the west
bank of the Tigris, and then "blasted apart the doors
to the building." Next, according to Bayoumi, "from the
tanks came eager calls in Arabic encouraging people to
come close to them."

At first, he said, residents were hesitant to come out
of their homes because anyone who had tried to cross
the street in the morning had been shot. "Arab
interpreters in the tanks told the people to go and
take what they wanted in the building," Bayoumi
continued. "The word spread quickly and the building
was ransacked. I was standing only 300 yards from there
when the guards were murdered. Afterwards the tank
crushed the entrance to the Justice Department, which
was in a neighboring building, and the plundering
continued there.

"I stood in a large crowd and watched this together
with them. They did not partake in the plundering but
dared not to interfere. Many had tears of shame in
their eyes. The next morning the plundering spread to
the Modern Museum, which lies a quarter mile farther
north. There were also two crowds there, one that
plundered and one that watched with disgust."

Kirkuk and Mosul

Similar scenes were reported in Kirkuk and Mosul, the
two large northern cities with ethnically mixed
populations. There the looting of public buildings has
direct political overtones, since the destruction of
property deeds and other government records will make
it easier to conduct ethnic cleansing of Arab or
Turkmen populations by the Kurdish forces that now
dominate the region, in alliance with US Special

In Kirkuk, the site of Iraq's richest oilfield, the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has already installed its
officials in the homes of former Ba'ath Party leaders.
US soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade seized
control of an Iraqi air base but permitted looters to
leave the base with their stolen goods, even opening
the gates to allow them to pass.

There was no effort to halt arson at the city's cotton
plant, or at office buildings, but US troops quickly
occupied facilities of the North Oil Company, the
state-owned firm that manages the huge northern
oilfields. Colonel William Mayville, commander of the
brigade, dispatched troops to three key oil facilities,
while US Special Forces stood watch over four gas-oil
separation plants. Mayville told the American media
that he wanted to send the message, "Hey, don't screw
with the oil."

In Mosul, northern Iraq's largest city, hospitals,
universities, laboratories, hotels, clinics and
factories were all sacked and stripped of their goods.
The 700 US troops sent to Mosul remained outside the
city for more than a day while the theft and vandalism
continued, leading to widespread complaints from city
residents-reported even in the American press-that the
US was permitting the pillaging.

Save the oil-and nothing else

Robert Fisk, writing in the British newspaper the
Independent April 14, noted a pattern in the response
of American forces to looting in Baghdad, which, he
said, "shows clearly what the US intends to protect."
He continued: "After days of arson and pillage, here's
a short but revealing scorecard. US troops have sat
back and allowed mobs to wreck and then burn the
Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Education, the
Ministry of Irrigation, the Ministry of Trade, the
Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of
Information. They did nothing to prevent looters from
destroying priceless treasures of Iraq's history in the
Baghdad Archaeological Museum and in the museum in the
northern city of Mosul, or from looting three

"The Americans have, though, put hundreds of troops
inside two Iraqi ministries that remain untouched-and
untouchable-because tanks and armoured personnel
carriers and Humvees have been placed inside and
outside both institutions. And which ministries proved
to be so important for the Americans? Why, the Ministry
of Interior, of course-with its vast wealth of
intelligence information on Iraq-and the Ministry of
Oil. The archives and files of Iraq's most valuable
asset-its oilfields and, even more important, its
massive reserves-are safe and sound, sealed off from
the mobs and looters, and safe to be shared, as
Washington almost certainly intends, with American oil

Such concerns were already apparent in the actions of
the US military at the very beginning of the war. The
same General Franks who instructed US troops to take no
action against looting in Baghdad or other cities gave
the order March 20 for the First Marine Expeditional
Force to invade Iraq a day early, because of reports,
later proven largely false, that Iraqi troops were
setting fire to the country's southern oilfields at

The Centcom chief discarded previous operational plans
and potentially put many soldiers' lives at risk by
acting before the air bombardment had begun in order to
safeguard the real objective of the US war, Iraq's huge
oil reserves.

The politics of plunder

The most striking aspect of the outbreak of looting was
the nonchalant attitude of US government officials in
Washington. At a Pentagon press conference Friday,
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denounced the
media for exaggerating the extent of chaos, and argued
that the looting was a natural and perhaps even healthy
expression of pent-up hostility to the old regime.
"It's untidy," Rumsfeld said. "And freedom's untidy.
And free people are free to make mistakes and commit

There is no doubt the Bush administration would take a
less charitable view of the "freedom" to loot if mobs
were breaking into corporate offices in downtown
Houston, Washington or New York City.

As in every action of the Bush administration, personal
greed and profit-gouging are an important aspect. The
ransacking of Iraqi government facilities, added to the
devastation caused by American bombing, is part of the
process of demolishing the large state-run sector of
Iraq's economy, to the benefit of American companies.
Already contracts have been awarded to private American
firms to provide new school books, replace looted
medical equipment, even train a new Iraqi police force.

In the Orwellian language of New York Times columnist
William Safire, the US aim is to "introduce free
enterprise and the rule of law"-by means of a criminal
invasion, followed by widespread looting. This will set
the stage for a much bigger theft: the privatization of
Iraq's vast oil resources and their exploitation,
directly or indirectly, by US and British oil

There is more at stake, however, than rank hypocrisy or
an appetite for Iraq's oil wealth. The looting in Iraq
directly serves the political interests of American
imperialism in cementing its domination of the
conquered country.

The Bush administration is seeking to encourage the
emergence of a new ruling elite in Iraq, formed from
the most rapacious, reactionary and selfish elements,
which will serve as a semi-criminal comprador force
entirely subservient to the United States. The
acquisition of property through the theft of Iraqi
state assets serves to bind these elements to the US
occupation forces by their own economic self-interest.
As one Army officer told the Times, as he watched the
looting approvingly, "This is the new income
redistribution program."

There is recent precedent for such an operation. The
first Bush administration proceeded in the same fashion
when it encouraged the formation of a new capitalist
elite in Russia out of layers of the Soviet-era mafia
and former Stalinist bureaucrats who acquired state
assets by wholesale theft. What US imperialism promoted
in the 1990s in eastern Europe and the former USSR
under the label "shock therapy", it is now applying in
the aftermath of its "shock and awe" devastation of

See Also:

The stage-managed events in Baghdad's Firdos Square:
image-making, lies and the "liberation" of Iraq
[12 April 2003]

US barbarism in Iraq
The way forward in the struggle against imperialist war
[11 April 2003]

Liberation by murder: Baghdad falls to American invasion
[10 April 2003]

Archaeologists warn of Iraq war's devastating consequences
[8 March 2003]

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