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Friday, April 11, 2003

Robert Fisk reports on Baghdad's slide into anarchy and lawlessness today. There are a number of recent historical situations that one may think about when considering the case of Iraq -- systematic killing Rwanda, the riots in south central Los Angeles, the massacres in Serbia, and a host of other unseemly situations where mass hysteria led to mass violence. After the fact the question often is "why didn't anyone do something?" U.S. and British forces are in that situation now - who knows how long the looting and lawlessness will last in Iraq. Instead of asking that question, I would hope there is a plan to do something. Troops present in Baghdad and elsewhere are realizing how difficult action is under these circumstances -- if the U.S. starts policing the population, then they may be cast as the bad guys (especially if they have to use force to stop the looting). However, if the U.S. simply stands back and watches or withdraws altogether, it will be lumped with the U.N. and other organizations which were accused of idly watching widespread chaos and not protecting innocent civilians.

A couple of paragraphs from Fisk's report gives us a picture of what we're dealing with:

"It was the day of the looter. They trashed the German embassy and hurled the ambassador's desk into the yard. I rescued the European Union flag – flung into a puddle of water outside the visa section – as a mob of middle-aged men, women in chadors and screaming children rifled through the consul's office and hurled Mozart records and German history books from an upper window. The Slovakian embassy was broken into a few hours later."


"But there seemed to be a kind of looter's law. Once a thief had placed his hand on a chair or a chandelier or a door-frame, it belonged to him. I saw no arguments, no fist-fights. The dozens of thieves in the German embassy worked in silence, assisted by an army of small children. Wives pointed out the furnishings they wanted, husbands carried them down the stairs while children were used to unscrew door hinges and – in the UN offices – to remove light fittings. One even stood on the ambassador's desk to take a light bulb from its socket in the ceiling."

Here we have a.) men, women, and children participating in the looting, and b.) the spread of these activities to non-Iraqi government buildings and targets. This is the result of a systemic breakdown; the targets of the looting are ill-defined and it's widespread among the population (it'd actually be better if the only people doing the looting were known criminals). We hope this ominous turn of events doesn't lead to widespread violence, but the actions of the populace should be taken as a warning sign that things could go in that direction, and that now is the time to take measures to restore order and actively prevent lawlessness.

Andrew 2:42 PM : |


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