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U.S. military trying to restore Iraq security

Sunday, May 18, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Senior U.S. military officials acknowledged on Saturday they have encountered unexpected obstacles to restoring security in Baghdad, including the dilemma of who should be in custody and who shouldn't.

Six weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the city of 5 million remains a dangerous place where looters and criminal gangs roam freely.

The military says it is pushing to change that.

Maj. Gen. William Webster, a senior U.S. commander in Iraq, said security would be helped by the recent arrival of additional American troops, increasing the overall military presence in the capital to 25,000 -- up from 16,000 several weeks ago.

In addition, military police have doubled the number of night patrols and are being aided, in part, by a tiny contingent of newly returned Iraqi police officers.

But Webster said military planners were caught off guard by how the war caused the disintegration of Iraqi military and police forces.

"We did not expect the entire armed forces to leave their equipment ... and put on civilian clothes when we conducted our initial planning," he said. "We did not expect all the police forces to go home and stay home."

Winning Iraqis' trust

Restoring law and order is crucial for the U.S. military's efforts to win the trust and confidence of the Iraqi people, many of them deeply suspicious of the occupying forces after years of oppression under Saddam Hussein.

"We continue to try and improve the security situation in Baghdad," Webster told reporters, some of whom recounted violent crimes they had witnessed in the past 24 hours.

He said the military is conducting night raids around the city to arrest car thieves, weapons smugglers and bandits threatening the population.

He also suggested -- as other American officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have in recent days -- that some of Baghdad's crime was caused by Saddam's decision to empty many of the country's jails and issue mass pardons before the war.

Webster said the lawyers were trying to determine whether Saddam's pardons would prevent coalition forces from arresting ex-convicts. Plus, there was no easy way to know who those people might be.

"We captured some prison records, but I don't believe we have a list," of those previously jailed, he said.

The military is currently holding 600 criminals in a makeshift jail and "the number is growing every day," said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, another coalition military official. Webster said other armed threats in the city were "regime holdouts still intent on killing."

That remains a top concern for American-led occupying forces, who are still targeting renegade figures from the fallen regime. On Saturday, a former top official of Saddam's Republican Guard who was on the coalition's most-wanted list surrendered to coalition authorities in Baghdad.

Gen. Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti, a cousin of Saddam whose brother is married to the deposed leader's youngest daughter, Hala, gave himself up Saturday morning, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. Mustafa spent most of his career in the Republican Guard.

Thousands of Baghdad's policemen, meanwhile, are beginning to return to work. Webster said those already back on the job were sufficiently armed to deal with criminals but that the military was reviewing a policy allowing only coalition forces to carry weapons.

Blount, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said confiscated ammunition, including rocket-propelled and hand grenades, was removed from Baghdad in 1,000 20-ton trucks.

"We're pushing hard to gather up illegal weapons, and we're taking anywhere from 20 to 200 a day," Blount said.


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