Sunday, April 13, 2003


Fearful of marauding gangs of looters, thieves and arsonists, Arab residents in Iraq's third-largest city formed armed militias on Sunday in a desperate attempt to protect their homes, shops and families.

Religious leaders in Mosul acknowledged the need for the neighborhood militias given the wholesale breakdown of law and order in the city, but the clerics also appealed to residents to put down their weapons in favor of unarmed patrols and roadblocks.

"These people setting up their own private militias and checkpoints are childish and stupid," said Sheikh Badr Al-Hilali, director of Mosul's mosques and religious sites. "Most of them don't even know how to use a gun. They are performing a stage-play that's a mockery of law and order. The allies have to stop this."

But the allies here - a couple of hundred Green Berets and Marines - are overwhelmed and overmatched. Mosul is a fractious, ethnically divided city of some 2 million people, including large numbers of hard-core Ba'ath Party members and Saddam Hussein loyalists who are angry over the fall of their regime.

"We need thousands of soldiers to properly police this city," said a Kurdish political leader who is working with the U.S. contingent.

U.S. soldiers have had to shift into a policing role in Mosul, which has been wracked by three days of horrific Kurdish-Arab violence. An estimated 70 people have been killed with countless numbers injured.

The city certainly remained edgy, tense and dangerous over the weekend. Two Army soldiers on a patrol late Saturday night were wounded by an unseen sniper, and they were quickly evacuated by helicopter out of the city for medical treatment.

Convoys of Green Berets, Marines and members of a new, U.S.-supervised squad of Free Iraqi Fighters made several swings through the city Sunday, large American flags flying high behind their Humvees. Children waved and shouted hello, although most of the men in the Arab neighborhoods looked on warily and unsmiling.

Even though Sunday is a regular workday here, only bakeries and tea shops were open. Men with Kalashnikov assault rifles stood on many rooftops in the downtown areas, presumably protecting their shops below.

Nearly all municipal services - water, power, police, sanitation - have broken down since the Iraqi Army meekly surrendered Thursday night. A frenzy of looting quickly followed as bank vaults were emptied of their cash, government offices were trashed and torched, and luxury hotels were ransacked.

By Sunday, however, the full extent of the looting was becoming more clear and more painful.

The prestigious University of Mosul was wrecked to within an inch of its academic life. The Medical College was robbed of microscopes, medicines and precious lab equipment. The public library lost its oldest volumes and the archives lost countless historical documents. Hospitals were ripped apart, ambulances hijacked and drug cabinets carried off whole.