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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Tuesday, April 15, 2003 at 1:03PM :

Article Last Updated: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 - 5:59:53 AM PST

Caught between chaos and calm
Conflicting emotions of Saddam's ouster: 'The situation of Iraqis is as if one eye is crying and one eye is laughing'
By Ian Fisher and John Kifner, New York Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Order took a slightly firmer hold on Baghdad on Monday as U.S. soldiers and a few Iraqi police officers patrolled the capital's devastated streets together for the first time. However, looting, shooting and burning continued almost a week after Saddam Hussein's government fell.
A few more shops reopened, though many had little to sell, and more cars plowed through intersections with still-dead stoplights. There were fewer looters, but also much less to loot.

In this moment between chaos and calm, emotions here are occupying an equally unsettled ground. There is growing joy in the realization that Saddam is really gone but anger that U.S. troops have not stepped in strongly enough to prevent further destruction of the city.

"The situation of Iraqis is as if one eye is crying and one eye is laughing," Sayid Hashem al-Shamaa, a Shiite leader at the Kadhimiya shrine here in Baghdad, said on Monday.

Two U.S. soldiers were reported killed on Monday and two others wounded in what was described as a grenade accident at a checkpoint in southern Baghdad. But none were reported killed by snipers or in combat.

With the threat diminished by a few notches, U.S. soldiers seemed more relaxed, chatting more with Iraqis. One Humvee along a highway was crowded on Monday with Iraqis talking calmly with the soldiers, a scene that would have been unlikely several days ago.

But the general situation remained tense. In Saddam City, a Shiite neighborhood now renamed Sadr City in honor of a slain Shiite cleric, some radicals called for the founding of an Islamic state as gun battles erupted again on Monday between rival groups, some of them, locals say, from other Arab nations.

Checkpoints manned by gunmen under the control of Shiite religious leaders were still in place along the main roads there on Monday, taking the role of regular police officers.

To help solidify the calm, 20 Iraqi policemen set out on Monday afternoon on the first joint patrol with U.S. Marines in eastern Baghdad. Several looters were reported arrested during the patrol.

In the last two days, in response to pleas for more order, Marines have also begun patrolling on their own to stop looters. There were reports on Monday night that a U.S. soldier shot dead a looter on Monday in east Baghdad, though those accounts could not be confirmed.

Sporadic gunfire resounded from the banks of the Tigris River into the night. Electricity was still cut off, which many Iraqis said prevented them from reopening shops and schools and returning a greater sense of normality.

On Monday afternoon, an Interior Ministry building where identity cards were issued was set alight, and at dusk three thick black plumes of smoke hung over the nearby Tigris. Looters also made their way into the Central Bank, carting off hoards of cash.

The entire national store of children's vaccines against polio, German measles and a number of other childhood diseases was destroyed by thieves who ripped out crucial refrigeration systems.

Lath Akram, the storekeeper for the vaccines in a section of the Iraqi Health Ministry, said: "There is no vaccine at all. Nothing, nothing, no equipment. Children will die if they do not receive the vaccines."

He took a reporter and photographer to the vaccine storage depot to show that the bulky refrigeration units had been ripped out.

Ambivalence toward the American presence seems to have lessened little in the week since they arrived here. The feelings were evident on a bridge over the Tigris on Monday when a squad car of four uniformed Iraqi police officers, one of the first such patrols, worked to disperse looters ripping apart a metal guardrail. A crowd demanded to know if they were working for the Americans.

"No, no," said one of the officers, Abbas Adel, 26. "We're working for the Iraqi people."

The crowd did not believe him.

"Well, yes, we are working under the control of the Americans, but only until things settle down," Adel said. "But we are still a real Iraqi police force."

In all, there seems more problem and dangers than the American soldiers here can handle -- and they are largely receiving the blame for it. On Monday in the Sliekh district in northern Baghdad, a row of houses exploded in a blast that sent up a huge plume of smoke, injuring what an ambulance driver said was 40 people, including several children.

The craters were rimmed with shells and it turned out that many of the surrounding houses in this purely residential neighborhood had been used to store tons of ammunition for the Iraqi army. A nearby kindergarten and high school were also piled with ammunition.

Some residents said the explosion was set by children playing in the ammunition; others said it was the work of forces still loyal to Saddam. Either way, they said in anger and frustration, U.S. soldiers had the responsibility to clear out the danger quickly.

"Since the Americans are the only people who have control in this country, it is their job to search all the empty houses and schools to make sure they are safe," said Hazwan Rawin, 45, who lives near the exploded houses, which continued to pop with small blasts several hours later. "Every empty house is filled with rockets and ammunition."

On Monday, the U.S. military tried to put an Iraqi police force on the street, an effort that culminated on Monday afternoon with the joint patrols between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police. The effort got off to a shaky start on Monday morning as some 3,000 former policemen gathered in the parking lot of the police academy for slightly more than 100 jobs.

The assembled police officers, who only a few weeks ago were enforcers for the Saddam government, began jumping up and down on a portrait of Saddam for the benefit of Western news photographers, declaring their former unquestioned leader "nothing" and "a dog."

Chaos ensued. Finally, Marine civil affairs officers ordered the new U.S.-anointed police chief, Gen. Zuhair Abdel-Razak al-Nami, to clear the area and start over again with a list of approved policemen.

Nami, who had a minor command under Saddam and has a reputation as a relatively kindly officer if less than strong leader, was recommended to the Americans by their exile advisers in the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Dr. Ahmed Chalabi.

The irony was not lost on the Americans: To restore order, they were relying on the very forces that represented the government they had come to overthrow.

-- Sadie
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