Robert Fisk on the looting of Baghdad

Robert Fisk on the looting of Baghdad

As ever, the best reporter on the Middle East conveys a more vivid picture in prose than all the video clips I’ve seen. Example:

“It is a scandal, a kind of disease, a mass form of kleptomania that American troops are blithely ignoring. At one intersection of the city, I saw US Marine snipers on the rooftops of high-rise building, scanning the streets for possible suicide bombers while a traffic jam of looters — two of them driving stolen double-decker buses crammed with refrigerators — blocked the highway beneath.

Outside the UN offices, a car slowed down beside me and one of the unshaven, sweating men inside told me in Arabic that it wasn’t worth visiting because “we’ve already taken everything”. Understandably, the poor and the oppressed took their revenge on the homes of the men of Saddam’s regime who have impoverished and destroyed their lives, sometimes quite literally, for more than two decades.

I watched whole families search through the Tigris-bank home of Ibrahim al-Hassan, Saddam’s half-brother and a former minister of interior, of a former defence minister, of Saadun Shakr, one of Saddam’s closest security advisers, of Ali Hussein Majid –“Chemical” Ali who gassed the Kurds and was killed last week in Basra — and of Abed Moud, Saddam’s private secretary. They came with lorries, container trucks, buses and carts pulled by ill-fed donkeys to make off with the contents of these massive villas.

It also provided a glimpse of the shocking taste in furnishings that senior Baath party members obviously aspired to; cheap pink sofas and richly embroidered chairs, plastic drinks trolleys and priceless Iranian carpets so heavy it took three muscular thieves to carry them. Outside the gutted home of one former minister of interior, a fat man was parading in a stolen top hat, a Dickensian figure who tried to direct the traffic jam of looters outside.

On the Saddam bridge over the Tigris, a thief had driven his lorry of stolen goods at such speed he had crashed into the central concrete reservation and still lay dead at the wheel.

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.”