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Some Baghdad looters returning booty, possibly in response to Muslim cleric's edict

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Some people are surrendering the booty they took in the Dura district of Baghdad, perhaps in response to a rumored edict by a Muslim cleric forbidding Iraqi wives from having sex with looter husbands.

Muslim clerics have been demanding that ill-gotten goods be surrendered, though none here could confirm the sex-ban order, said to have been issued in Najaf. One cleric said the rumor of the edict was widespread and that it would be consistent with Islamic teaching.

"A good Muslim woman would not let this man touch her, as a signal to everybody that this is not a way to behave," said Sheik Ali Jabouri, who also preached Monday morning that people must give up their loot.

"The people were destroying their civilization, their heritage; they were destroying their good Iraqi Muslim character," Jabouri said. "I think these waves of bad people, the enemies of peace, will stop. You will soon see how good the people are, how willing they are to apply the good Islam."

Whatever the reason, workers from the huge al Dura power plant weaved through the district Monday, recovering looted items from their neighbors.

"They started to put it outside their houses, so we go around and collect it. It is my country and I am happy to serve it," said Nasser Ghali, 43, easing a truck crammed with office equipment past two U.S. tanks to al Dura's huge power plant compound in southern Baghdad.

His fourth shipment of the morning, it contained chairs, desks and bookcases that had been stripped from the plant in the havoc of looting that followed Saddam Hussein's fall last week. Staff Sgt. Adam Jablonowski, who grew up near Miami, supervised gate security and said stolen equipment had been "coming in all day," including vehicles and other supplies.

No doubt part of the inspiration for turning over looted goods was the hope that Iraqi engineers guarded by U.S. forces could restart the huge plant, which maintenance engineer Tony Mateus said stopped serving some 3 million customers amid U.S. air strikes about 10 days ago.

Mateus said about half the usual 500-member work force turned up at the gates of the plant Monday, eager to figure out how to fix the problem.

Engineers concluded that a natural gas line was cut north of the city, and that fuel was needed to fire up the plant. Now, Mateus said, Iraqi civilians and U.S. forces were trying to figure out how to restart it without natural gas.

The plant was damaged, he said, first by U.S. air strikes and then by Iraqi looters, but not beyond repair. Mateus, a Christian Iraqi, said he and 10 other men from Dura barricaded themselves inside throughout the war, armed, to ward off widespread thievery, and were more or less successful.

It was a second such experience for Mateus, 40. U.S. air strikes damaged a power plant in the southern city of Nasiriyah in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, while he was working there in a nearby office.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steve Hawkins visited the power plant complex Monday in a convoy of Humvees carrying an engineering team to see what might be done.

"We liberated this place. Now we want to get it up and operational," he said. But restarting the plant might take some time.

"You know, in our country, the United States, the power went out in North Carolina after a big storm and that's a very robust capability, North Carolina Light, and how long did it take to get that services up for those people?" Hawkins recalled. "Right around three weeks."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.