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Iraq

As order returns, loot's recovered

By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN, Times Senior Correspondent
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- When looters hit the palace of Saddam Hussein's oldest son, Uday, they set their sights on a car lover's dream: a customized Ford with a Rolls Royce-style hood, leather interior and steering wheel made of gold and polished wood.

But the would-be thieves were startled by police and fled. Now the Ford is in the parking lot of Baghdad's police academy, which has become the main repository for a vast array of items stolen in a post-war crime spree and later recovered.

There are office desks and bed frames, sofas and cocktail tables. There are passenger buses, Mercedes trucks and a brand new Nissan Maxima pilfered from the Ministry of the Interior's Water and Sewerage Department. On Tuesday, an officer brought in a man with a huge safe wedged into the trunk of a battered '83 Volkswagen. Both safe and car were stolen, police said.

In the recent outbreak of lawlessness, looters have stripped factories, stores, museums and government offices as well as the lavish residences of the Hussein family and close associates. With more American troops now on patrol and Iraq's own security forces reorganizing, the looting has tapered off and some of the booty is being turned in voluntarily or recovered by police.

At the academy on Tuesday, officers went through a truckload of items looted from the home of Lt. Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali" for his alleged role in the gassing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s. Though considered one of the tough men of Hussein's regime, al-Majid's Baghdad manse had a surprisingly frilly decor.

Among the loot: a pink brocade sofa, a French Provincial cocktail table and a white door with what appeared to be gold leaf trim.

Another star item at the police academy is the vintage Ford, customized by Zimmer Motor Car Corp. of Pompano Beach. The car purportedly was made for a Kuwaiti prince -- a name is engraved on the gold part of the steering wheel -- and stolen by Iraqi troops when they invaded their neighbor in 1990.

It's unclear how the Ford ended up at Uday Hussein's palace, but he is known to be a car buff. With heavy hearts, American troops already have destroyed several other classic cars in his collection for fear they would be stolen and used by suicide bombers.

Police say they have arrested many looters, who are being held in a jail at the academy as well as in other jails around town. Because many stolen items were from public buildings, they likely will wind up in other government offices that were stripped of their contents.

The police themselves seem to have appropriated some of the furniture for their own use. As the new interim chief visited the academy Tuesday, officers carried in two used but expensive-looking pieces -- a sofa and chair with carved wooden arms.

-- Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at susan@sptimes.com

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