U.S. troops seized control of the center of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit this morning. Arab television network Al Jazeera broadcast pictures of U.S. tanks in the central square. Al Jazeera is reporting U.S. troops encountered fierce resistance. Twenty-two tribal leaders had sued for peace in a last-ditch effort to stave off an assault on the town, but U.S. troops apparently ignored the appeal and attacked.
British war correspondent Robert Fisk is reporting gunfights have broken out between property owners and looters in Baghdad. Shia and Sunni Muslims are fighting each other because Saddam Hussein’s government privileged the Sunnis and impoverished the Shia. Fisk writes, by failing to end the violence, U.S. troops are stoking ethnic hatred and provoking a civil war in Baghdad. Hundreds of streets are barricaded with burned-out cars and tree trunks. They’re watched over by armed men who are ready to kill strangers who threaten their homes or shops. Fisk notes that is how the civil war began in Beirut in 1975. Reports of vigilante and revenge killings are also emerging.
The London Observer reports Baghdad is bursting with anti-American feeling as residents see their city stripped by its own citizens. U.S. forces rarely intervene, and in some cases even wave treasure-laden men through checkpoints. Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reports U.S. soldiers shot and killed a Baghdad shopkeeper who was defending his shop with a Kalashnikov assault rifle against looters, this according to neighbors.
U.S. forces over the weekend began recruiting volunteers and former government workers to help administer the city. About a thousand people, including health workers, electricity and water ministry employees, attended a meeting in the center of the capital to volunteer for work. But the BBC reports some volunteers are upset that members of the old regime are dominating the recruits. Twenty-three-year-old Ahmad Kadhim said, “I came here to volunteer to protect state buildings, but I found the same Baath Party members who tortured us only a few days ago. It’s the same people all over again.” He lifted his T-shirt to show scars on his back.
The London Observer is reporting the U.S. multinational corporation DynCorp has won a multimillion-dollar contract to police Iraq. DynCorp began recruiting for a private police force last week. But the corporation faces accusations of human rights violations around the world. A British tribunal recently forced DynCorp to pay compensation to an employee who blew the whistle on colleagues involved in a sex ring in Bosnia, where the company was policing. Ecuadorians have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company for spraying herbicides that killed legitimate crops, caused illness and killed children.
In northern Iraq, thousands of Arabs are being expelled from their homes by armed Kurds. There are reports of abandoned Arab villages and hamlets all along the road that runs northwest from Kirkuk to Makhmur. Wheat fields have transformed overnight into temporary refugee camps. An official with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan told The New York Times that Washington has given Kurdish forces tacit approval to pursue the policy of expulsion.
Meanwhile, the London Independent reports that at least eight people were killed in gun battles between Iraqi Kurds and Arab tribes south of Kirkuk yesterday. The fighting was around the town of Hawija on the road between the Iraqi oil center of Kirkuk and the city of Tikrit. Under Saddam Hussein, some 300,000 Kurds were driven out of the oil-rich Mosul and Kirkuk provinces and forced to live within the Kurdish enclave. All their villages were destroyed, and Arab settlers farmed their lands.
It emerged over the weekend that 170,000 ancient artifacts housed in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad had been destroyed or looted. The New York Times reports the destruction of the museum is likely to be reckoned as one of the greatest cultural disasters in recent Middle East history. The National Museum recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. Among the treasures lost or destroyed, the world’s first written words. After surviving for more than 5,000 years, distinctive clay tablets from the Royal Tombs of Ur are gone. The tablets have cuneiform writing and are recognized as the root of all mankind’s written communication. The world’s earliest examples of mathematics, including calculations that have led to the modern system of timekeeping, using hours, minutes and seconds, based on the number six.
Museum officials are outraged at U.S. troops for failing to protect the museum. For weeks before the war, archaeologists and scholars around the world had warned the Pentagon about post-war looting. They reminded the Pentagon that after the 1991 Gulf War, nine of Iraq’s 13 regional museums were plundered. Meanwhile, Reuters reports U.S. troops are seizing trophies from Iraq to take home with them or even to sell on eBay.
With Baghdad still in flames and gun battles continuing, the Bush administration is turning its sights on Syria. President Bush yesterday warned Syria not to harbor Iraqi leaders, and he accused Syria of possessing chemical weapons. His comments came after Donald Rumsfeld said the majority of foreign fighters in Iraq are from Syria, brought in by busloads. And General Colin Powell told the BBC that Syria had acted as a conduit for supplies to Saddam’s regime, and said the U.S. has for years designated Syria as a state that sponsors terrorism. The BBC is reporting a top Iraqi Republican Guard general who switched sides during the war is backing Washington’s claims. General Ali al-Jajawi said top figures of Saddam Hussein’s government fled to Syria last week. Meanwhile, the Pentagon claims U.S. forces stopped a busload near the Syrian border over the weekend. The bus was carrying some 60 men with over a half a million dollars in cash and a letter offering a reward for killing U.S. soldiers.
Meanwhile, Bush administration sources have told the London Observer the U.S. has pledged to tackle the Syrian-backed Hezbollah group in the next phase of its so-called war on terror. Hezbollah is a Shia Muslim organization based in Lebanon whose fighters have attacked northern Israeli settlements and harassed occupying Israeli troops, forcing Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon three years ago. The Observer reports Washington has promised Israel it’ll cut off Syria’s support for Hezbollah in an attempt to persuade Israel to support a new settlement with the Palestinians. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is regarded as the real architect of the invasion of Iraq. He said last week, “There will have to be change in Syria, plainly.” Two of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior aides will travel to Washington this week. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports the aides will suggest the U.S. “take care” of Iran and Syria. They will point out that both countries support Hezbollah.
The Boston Globe reports the emerging strategy called preemptive deterrence got a boost on Friday when members of Congress aligned with Bush administration neoconservatives proposed legislation authorizing the White House to impose stiff penalties, including diplomatic sanctions, on Syria if it does not take immediate action to end its support for Hezbollah and its development of weapons of mass destruction. The White House blocked similar legislation last year out of concern it would divert attention from Iraq. But last week, as Baghdad fell, administration officials gave lawmakers the green light to move ahead.
Saddam Hussein’s former chief weapons scientist has surrendered to U.S. forces. General Amir Hamudi al-Sadi gave himself up in Baghdad less than 24 hours after being named as one of 55 former Iraqi officials wanted dead or alive by the United States. Al-Sadi oversaw the country’s chemical weapons. He said Iraq does not possess chemical or biological weapons and that there was no justification for an attack on his country. He was taken for questioning to an undisclosed location.
Seven American prisoners of war were discovered alive in a town north of Baghdad yesterday. The Marines said they were led to the POWs by Iraqi soldiers who had been abandoned by their own officers. It appears the POWs were not mistreated. Meanwhile, two members of Médecins Sans Frontières have returned to Baghdad after being arrested and held for eight days in an Iraqi prison. They were accused of being spies. They were not physically mistreated, but they say they did hear other prisoners being beaten.