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[casi] Jul. 14, 2003 TIME magazine,9171,1101030714-463062,00.html

Grounding Planes the Wrong Way
Coalition troops looted and vandalized the Iraqi airport that now must be

Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003
Much has been written about how Iraqis complicated the task of rebuilding
their country by looting it after Saddam Hussein's regime fell. In the case
of the international airport outside Baghdad, however, the theft and
vandalism were conducted largely by victorious American troops, according to
U.S. officials, Iraqi Airways staff members and other airport workers. The
troops, they say, stole duty-free items, needlessly shot up the airport and
trashed five serviceable Boeing airplanes. "I don't want to detract from all
the great work that's going into getting the airport running again," says
Lieut. John Welsh, the Army civil-affairs officer charged with bringing the
airport back into operation. "But you've got to ask, If this could have been
avoided, did we shoot ourselves in the foot here?"

What was then called Saddam International Airport fell to soldiers of the
3rd Infantry Division on April 3. For the next two weeks, airport workers
say, soldiers sleeping in the airport's main terminal helped themselves to
items in the duty-free shop, including alcohol, cassettes, perfume,
cigarettes and expensive watches. Welsh, who arrived in Iraq in late April,
was so alarmed by the thievery that he rounded up a group of Iraqi airport
employees to help him clean out the shop and its storage area. He locked
everything in two containers and turned them over to the shop's owner.

"The man had tears in his eyes when I showed him what we had saved," says
Welsh. "He thought he'd lost everything."

Coalition soldiers also vandalized the airport, American sources say. A
boardroom table that Welsh and Iraqi civil-aviation authority officials sat
around in early May was, a week later, a pile of glass and splintered wood.
Terminal windows were smashed, and almost every door in the building was
broken, says Welsh. A TIME photographer who flew out of the airport on April
12 saw wrecked furniture and English-language graffiti throughout the
airport office building as well as a sign warning that soldiers caught
vandalizing or looting would be court-martialed. "There was no chance this
was done by Iraqis" before the airport fell, says a senior Pentagon
official. "The airport was secure when this was done." Iraqi airport staff
concede that some of the damage was inflicted by Iraqi exiles attached to
the Army, but these Iraqis too were under American control.

The airplanes suffered the greatest damage. Of the 10 Iraqi Airways jets on
the tarmac when the airport fell, a U.S. inspection in early May found that
five were serviceable: three 727s, a 747 and a 737. Over the next few weeks,
U.S. soldiers looking for comfortable seats and souvenirs ripped out many of
the planes' fittings, slashed seats, damaged cockpit equipment and popped
out every windshield. "It's unlikely any of the planes will fly again," says
Welsh, a reservist who works for the aviation firm Pratt & Whitney as a
quality-control liaison officer to Boeing.

U.S. estimates of the cost of the damage and theft begin at a few million
dollars and go as high as $100 million. Airport workers say even now air
conditioners and other equipment are regularly stolen. "Soldiers do this
stuff all the time, everywhere. It's warfare," says a U.S. military
official. "But the conflict was over when this was done. These are just
bored soldiers." Says Welsh: "If we're here to rebuild the country, then
anything we break we have to fix. We need to train these guys to go from
shoot-it-up to securing infrastructure. Otherwise we're just making more
work for ourselves. And we have to pay for it."

>From the Jul. 14, 2003 issue of TIME magazine

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