The Washington Post
I was one of the first reporters into the Baghdad Museum. I saw rooms that had been stripped bare. I saw people with crowbars running in to pry open cases. But just walking through that museum and seeing it destroyed by looters was heart-wrenching. For the first time, I started to think — “We’ve come here without a plan. It would have taken one tank in front of this building to have protected it, yet we didn’t do a single thing to stop it. Did we really come into this with no postwar plan?”
The day that Mosul fell [April 11], we were in the palace when it was being looted and it was extraordinary. We walked into the palace and there were no U.S. forces, really nobody in control, and the word had gone out that the Iraqi army had gone and that the palace was there and it was open. And entire families came. They didn’t just come and tour the place. They came and they tore the door hinges off, they came and they took away the marble, and the place was really being dismantled in front of us. We did live shots from there and we did live interviews. And it was an absolutely remarkable thing because it was so unrestrained. That morning we’d gone in thinking, “This is it, this is the end of the Iraqi regime, this is the dawn of a new age.” By sundown that day, we had a security guy who was getting really nervous because people were starting to get a little aggressive.
There were many unsecured weapons caches in the schools, as I recall, because I think that Iraqi forces at the time thought they would be a good place to hide things because they didn’t look very suspect. But the American forces were just overwhelmed, and at that stage nobody — at least not the military — was taking the probability of a really well-equipped and well-organized insurgency properly or seriously, and so there was no feeling that these weapons were being stolen by a group that would become a serious enemy.
In Mosul, this guy took a knife out from under his shirt and he stabbed this portrait of Saddam, and he stabbed and stabbed and stabbed and slashed at his eyes and I watched this and thought, “Oh my God.” I had to remind myself that Saddam is gone. [The man with the knife is] not going to be punished.
The chaos went on — people forget — for two months at a high volume, high intensity. Even a month and a half after the fall of the government, people were going around in buses and picking a building, go up there and load up and drive back to Sadr City. And they would dismantle buildings, first of all the valuable and movable things, then the furniture and then the windows and then the window frames and the electrical and the light fixtures and eventually strip the thing bare. This was going on in view of American soldiers, sometimes literally across the street from where soldiers would be guarding some of the few places that they were told to guard. And it was true — and famously or infamously true — that the oil ministry was one of the few buildings that was guarded from the very beginning.
People were shocked that the U.S. did nothing, and they will forever remember that virtually the only building — it wasn’t the only building but one of the few buildings — that was protected was the oil ministry; that just summed up to so many Iraqis why the U.S. was there, and confirmed their worst fears. And it also played to the utter naïveté of the Americans, because it wasn’t just Iraqis letting off steam, as Rumsfeld said. It was Baathists going around destroying documents — making Iraq ungovernable: destroying drivers’ license records, all of the things that make a city able to be governed. And it was the beginning of the insurgency.