Iraqi Envoy Sees Parallel in New Orleans Looting

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 3, 2005

Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations yesterday drew a comparison between the way U.S. troops have been sent to New Orleans to put down looting and the failure in 2003 of coalition forces to halt looting in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Emphasizing that he was speaking as an individual and not in his official capacity, Deputy Ambassador Feisal Amin Istrabadi said at a meeting of the American Political Science Association that he thought about the U.S. forces' lack of action two years ago to halt the extensive looting in Baghdad as he followed the events in New Orleans. He added: "I hope others did, too."

The annual APSA convention draws thousands of academics, students, government officials and others and features more than 500 panels and speeches over four days. The theme of this year's meeting was "Mobilizing Democracy." It had sessions on Iraq.

The first to bring up New Orleans yesterday during a discussion on Iraq was Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen who served in Baghdad in 2003 as part of the original coalition group that entered the city in April 2003 to create a post-Saddam Hussein government.

Bodine said she was not minimizing what was happening in New Orleans, but she recalled that, when looting took place in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld described it as "messy stuff" that happens in a free country. "I would like to see Mr. Rumsfeld stand up and say that to the people in New Orleans," Bodine said.

Bodine noted that Louisiana officials are saying that the public should not stand for lawlessness and that the National Guard and police will arrest and even shoot looters. She cited as a disconnect the fact that about 30,000 troops are heading to a single city, in New Orleans's case, while about 140,000 U.S. service members were sent to bring security to the whole of Iraq.

Bodine said that, of the early U.S. failures, "the big one was the looting." She said when Bush officials minimized the importance of the looting, the Iraqis began to believe that "you [the U.S.] are here for your own political agenda . . . you are not here for our stability and safety."

Bodine also said that the refusal to stop the Baghdad looting sent a negative signal to the U.S. military.

The Iraqi ambassador said Bodine drew the right comparison in mentioning the looting, and he questioned how someone thought approximately 150,000 coalition troops going into a country as big as France were going to bring peace and security in Iraqi cities with an inactive army and police force. "That is a squandering of the military victory," he said.

Istrabadi made clear that in the long run he trusts the resiliency of the Iraqi people but that "the point is, in the short term, it may not be pretty for a long time."

Among the reasons for the problems in Iraq, he said, is the failure of the Bush administration to understand both the history and the culture of the country. As an example, he cited the error of the administration's assumption that the invasion would be welcomed by Iraqis with "treats and flowers" and the waving of American flags.

He recalled how the "first President Bush encouraged rebellion" against the Iraqi government at the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 but then allowed Saddam Hussein to use helicopter gunships to kill the rebels. Added to that, he said, was the United Nations' economic sanctions, which the envoy said hurt the civilian population and not Hussein and his ruling clique.

"There may have been no institutional memories in this city," Istrabadi said, referring to Washington, "but that wasn't true in Baghdad. . . . The sweets and flowers were in 1991."

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