April 12, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Since they arrived, U.S. Marines have been doing their own kind of looting: grabbing Iraqi pistols, rifles, uniforms and pictures of Saddam Hussein.
On Friday, they were ordered to dump what they took or lose their rank.
"You did not conquer . . . this country. Get off your high horse," Lt. Col. Michael Belcher told his officers. "You took some thugs and ran them out."
The commander of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, reminded his soldiers that the Iraqi people allowed U.S.-led forces to oust Hussein, so they deserve respect. And that, he said, means no looting.
There will be no "I won this country back. I can take what I can get," Belcher said.
Then he pulled out a pile of confiscated booty: a picture of Hussein with a bull's-eye drawn on it, ammunition magazines and Iraqi uniforms.
Stolen tear gas canisters particularly infuriated Belcher, who worried that a Marine might fire off a canister to disperse unruly crowds in the city.
"It's chemical warfare," Belcher said.
Soon, a group of quiet Marines glumly gathered to toss their booty onto an ever-growing pile.
They threw in Kalashnikov rifles, gas masks and bullets. One Marine dropped an assault vest filled with ammunition clips. Another put in a rocket-propelled grenade round.
Lance Cpl. Randall Taylor, 19, of Texarkana, Texas, came out of his Humvee carrying two Iraqi grenades he had hoped to use before leaving.
"I was gonna throw these," he said, smiling like a shamed child.
Although they had been warned against collecting war souvenirs, some Marines had been rapidly collecting huge caches.
At first they took small things: knives, perhaps a pistol or two. But as they stumbled upon large armories filled with nearly every type of weapon in Iraq's arsenal, they became more brazen, taking rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Some Marines still plotted to smuggle home smaller things: a pistol, Iraqi military patches ripped from uniforms, small pictures of Hussein.
But Cpl. Jesse Schutz, 21, of Omaha, Neb., happily surrendered two Kalashnikov rifles and swords a few days ago so they could be run over by a tank and destroyed.
"It just isn't worth it," he said. "I can go back to Wal-Mart to buy a gun instead of stealing it from a country."