Today's Paper

Looting in Baghdad streets as Saddam regime 'falls'

BAGHDAD April 9. United States troops swept into the heart of Baghdad to an ecstatic welcome today, as Saddam Hussein's 24-year rule crumbled into chaos and looting. Invasion forces have yet to find any banned chemical or biological arms, a key justification for the war.

As U.S. Marines rolled in from the east on day 21 of the war, hundreds of people gutted official buildings, hauling off anything from air-conditioners to flowers. The U.S. military said a crucial point had been reached at which ordinary people realised Mr. Hussein's rule was over.

Thousands of U.S. troops moved towards the centre overnight from the west, northeast and south, meeting little resistance. Residents woke to the sound of birdsong and only occasional shooting after one of the calmest nights in three weeks of war.

"The capital city is now one of those areas that has been added to the list of where the regime does not have control," said Vincent Brooks at the U.S. Central Command in Qatar. However, Brig. Gen. Brooks said Mr. Hussein's loyalists were holding out in the north, including in his hometown of Tikrit, and still posed a threat.

There were no signs of Iraqi police or uniformed men on the capital's main streets. Information Ministry officials who had shadowed reporters through the conflict were nowhere to be seen.

Even the Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who had turned up daily to pour abuse on the Americans and deny all their reports of advances, failed to make an appearance.

There was no word on the fate of Mr. Hussein or his sons, targeted by U.S. planes that dropped four 900-kg bombs on a western residential area of the city on Monday.

American troops stood by as looters raided sports shops around the bombed headquarters of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, headed by Mr. Hussein's elder son, Uday, who also led the fidayeen militia. U.S. troops pulled down a 20-foot high statue of Mr. Hussein in central Baghdad today and Iraqis danced on it in contempt for the man who had ruled them with an iron grip for 24 years.

In scenes reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Iraqis earlier took a sledgehammer to the marble plinth under the statue of Saddam. Youths had placed a noose around the statue's neck and attached the rope to a U.S. truck.

Marines seized a headquarters of Mr. Hussein's feared secret police, Reuters reported. The deserted Directorate of General Security building in an eastern district was already being looted when the Marines arrived.

Sporadic shooting in parts of Baghdad prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend operations, citing "chaotic and unpredictable" conditions. It said its staffer, Vatche Arslanian, a Canadian, was missing since Tuesday. He was feared wounded when his vehicle came under fire. Two other ICRC staffers in the vehicle escaped.

Jubilant crowds threw flowers and cheered as Marines drove into the city from the vast eastern township of Saddam City, home to about two million Shi'ite Muslims. Elsewhere in the capital, U.S. forces steadily expanded their reach, securing a military airport, capturing a prison and setting fire to a Republican Guard barracks. They were operating in every quadrant of the city.

Buford Blount II, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, visited a command post set up at the New Presidential Palace, overlooking the Tigris River in central Baghdad. David Perkins, whose 2nd Brigade was at the command post, told Maj. Gen. Blount his forces could go anywhere in the city and meet only sporadic sniping. The two discussed what buildings could be used to house U.S. military units and a new Government to replace that of Mr. Hussein. "That's the next mental jump, for the Iraqis to realise that even if he (Saddam Hussein) is still alive, he's not in charge anymore," Col. Perkins said.

The Iraqi Government's efforts to sustain its public relations campaign collapsed. State television went off the air on Tuesday, and on Wednesday foreign journalists said their "minders" — Government agents who monitor their reporting — did not turn up for work.

In Basra, looters have been plundering government buildings, universities, even hospitals.

While intent on completing the takeover of Baghdad, U.S. commanders also were turning their attention to Tikrit, about 145 km to the north. Defended by well-trained troops, and home to many of Mr. Hussein's most devoted followers, the city of 260,000 is considered one of the few remaining strongholds of the Iraqi regime. The Central Command said coalition airstrikes were targeting the Republican Guard's Adnan division in Tikrit, "shaping the battlefield" before U.S. ground forces move in.

AP, Reuters