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http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101030714-463062,00.html C O V E R Grounding Planes the Wrong Way Coalition troops looted and vandalized the Iraqi airport that now must be rebuilt 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 _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk