BAGHDAD, Iraq—Baghdad stood a city divided Thursday—divided between the secure and insecure, mayhem and calm, lawlessness and efforts to re-establish law, between a relatively peaceful, if chaotic, sector west of the Tigris River and a sector where combat still flared on the river's east.
To provide security, Marines set up a cordon of tanks, armed vehicles and barbed wire in the central city around hotels occupied by hundreds of foreign journalists. But there was no security for the Marines: a suicide bomber slipped up to a checkpoint there and blew himself up. Four Marines were seriously wounded.
Businesses remained shuttered in much of the city as looters continued to plunder abandoned government ministries. But some fruit stands and restaurants opened in the afternoon, and on a quiet corner a few men relaxed at a sidewalk cafe and sipped tea.
One man laughed as he watched his neighbors cart off appliances and furniture from the luxurious home nearby of a Baath party official. "Ali Babas," he said, gesturing toward them, using the term that everyone here equates with thieves.
Others were dismayed. "These people are not Muslims," said an angry Khalid Hussein, 40. "This is not allowed by Islam. It is wrong. I just want people around the world to know this."
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At one presidential palace south of Baghdad International Airport, U.S. soldiers tried to stop the looting, ordering a half-dozen trucks to unload the furniture and appliances that their drivers had hauled out of dozens of villas set along a 10-acre man-made lake.
"Tell them this is for my wife," one of the drivers pleaded about his load of rattan furniture in the back of his pickup truck. A soldier sat in the turret of his Bradley fighting vehicle, cradling his carbine. He motioned for the man to dump the goods from his truck. Men and boys surged around, begging for handshakes and to have their photos taken with the troops.
2nd Lt. Mike Washburn, 32, fired a warning shot into the air. "All right," the soldier from Yorktown, Va., shouted. "Y'all go on now. Go on back to your homes."
Throughout the western suburbs, trucks and cars full of pilfered goods careened along the roads. Journalists unaccompanied by soldiers were mobbed. "America?" one asked. "Saddam gone. Bush, No. 1."
But there were also skeptics: "I don't think he's dead," said a man who called himself Ferris and said he'd returned to Iraq two years ago after years living in Detroit. "I think he's living underground. If you think all of his guys are gone, then you are crazy, man.
"If they see me talking to you, then maybe they will come to my house tonight and slit my throat."
A ride downtown with an Army commander seemed like a parade, in spite of the damaged buildings and burned out tanks. Pedestrians stood by the side of the road and waved. But Col. Dan Allyn, the head of the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade cautioned that the scene might be deceptive in what he calls the "three-block war." On one block, he noted, "You can have a group that's committed to conflict. On another, you have a group that's fairly stable. And on the third, humanitarian aid is flowing through."
With Saddam loyalists largely gone from western Baghdad, Allyn said the Army would turn from combat to pacification throughout the sector.
First priority: prevent revenge killings, said Major Jack Nales, an Army reservist who in civilian life is the executive director of the American Red Cross in Fayetteville, Ark. It will fall to Nales to coordinate work with nongovernmental organizations that will come to Baghdad to provide aid.
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But just protecting yourself can be tough enough in Baghdad.
Marine Staff Sgt. Bill Clark found that out as he sat on a chair relaxing outside the back of his Humvee. The Humvee was in the state-owned cigarette factory compound in Baghdad's Saddam City that his unit, the 1st Battalion 4th Marines, had commandeered the day before. He was flipping through a "chick magazine" when something flew out of the air and landed on the inside of his left forearm, causing bright red blood to spill out.
"I thought I heard a snap," Clark said a few minutes later, as he was being treated for the wound. "It was like a firecracker going off. Then I felt a burning in my arm."
A spent bullet? A piece of shrapnel? Broken glass from the factory's high-rise office tower? No one knew. Navy SEAL snipers positioned on the tower opened fire at several targets in Saddam City. Earlier, they had seen a sniper firing from the minaret of a nearby mosque.
The encampment had taken pot shots several times during the day, and Marines had arrested several members of the Saddam Fedayeen, the paramilitary group that had provided most of the resistance to the Marines' advance on Baghdad.
Tank fire and mortar shelling mixed with the Muslim call to prayer in the early hours of Thursday.
A pharmacist at a nearby hospital pleaded with the Marines for security when they took an ill Iraqi woman there. The pharmacist, Mohammed Hamid, said the hospital could not perform surgery despite having many patients injured seriously by bombings and in fighting. The hospital had no electricity, and its limited supplies were confined to one small stockroom. Virtually all the doctors had not reported to work.
"We can't do any operations because there are no anesthesiologists," he said.
Another man, Dhaia Oudah, said: "They are out of medications, and patients are just here to die. Last night, there were four or five doctors, and now everyone is gone but one."
But the Marines declined because some of the patients were injured Iraqi fighters, and they wanted to avoid a confrontation.
But the Marines might go back. At their compound at the factory, the Marines found boxes of unopened prescription medications, enough to fill a stretcher. The drugs, in cabinets and on shelves in the factory's health clinic, included generic Iraqi versions of painkillers such as Naprosyn and aspirin, antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin and tetracycline, the tranquilizer Valium, eye and eardrops, anti-fungal cream and hydrocortisone cream.
Navy Chief Petty Officer Matthew Lubold said the finding of ciprofloxacin and Valium, used in the treatment of anthrax and nerve gas exposure respectively, could be suspicious. He also questioned why the state-owned cigarette factory—employer to many Baath Party members and activists—had so much unused medication when Baghdad hospitals did not have enough.
Other defensive material had been stored at the factory. Also found in the basement of its main building were more than 2,000 unopened gas masks and air filters; about 30 pieces of new and used computer equipment of Syrian, American and British origin; and 150 assault rifles, including the Chinese SKS.
Throughout Baghdad, there was a sense of war and calm, but no clear sense of which could be found where.
Near the Tigris, men threw papers from a government building that had been blasted by U.S. tanks Wednesday. A man sat in a window and cheered as the papers floated down, some into the river below.
Two sharp explosions shook the riverbank—U.S. soldiers destroying a weapons cache found nearby.
At nightfall, a mosque across the street from the Palestine and Sheraton hotels was illuminated by electric lights. A mother sat reading evening prayers with a child.
In the distance, gunfire rattled sporadically in the city.
(Gerlin is traveling with the Marines' 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent S. Thorne Harper contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-BAGHDAD.