Scenes of jubilation as the Americans entered Baghdad were all too quickly replaced by pictures of violence and mayhem as the rule of law disintegrated across the city and beyond. The end of Saddam Hussein and his repressive regime came just 21 days after the first US attacks against Iraq were launched. The finish had been swifter than generally anticipated although not, by any means, the pushover the Americans had been led to expect.
As Saddam and his henchmen fled for their lives, leaving nothing to fill the power vacuum, sections of the population went wild, rampaging through towns and cities, looting everything they could carry away, burning what they couldn't and terrorising those who got in their way.
The western media reacted with shock and horror, although looting is a predictable consequence of such conflict. After 30 years of repressive Baathist rule, more than 25 of them tinder Saddam Hussein; a decade of UN sanctions and with the majority of the population dependent on government handouts for their survival, what did anyone expect once the yoke of oppression was finally lifted? True, certain groups turned looting into a savagely operated business enterprise but even elderly woman and young children could be seen manoeuvring armchairs and television sets out of government buildings in the hours that followed the so-called liberation, before violent gangs forced everyone else off the streets. Within days Baghdad was in ruins.
Water and power were the first essential services to go down, 32 out of 35 of Baghdad's hospitals were reported to be out of commission, patients lay dying in hospital corridors as looters made off with ventilators, incubators and other life saving equipment. Hundreds of schools, offices and shops simply failed to open. Much of the population of Baghdad, incarcerated from dusk to dawn behind locked doors, for fear of the chaos and violence created on the street by gangs of thugs to whom nothing was sacred, used the hours of daylight to implore coalition troops to do something to resolve their situation. The troops, like their paymasters, appeared powerless. If Saddam had actually launched the chemical weapons attacks in those early days, as we had been warned he would, God only knows what devastation might have been wreaked. Even without the chemical onslaught chaos ruled supreme.
The `embedded' journalists reported the absence of any obvious master plan for the civilian population; troops moved in, crushed the opposition and moved on, leaving a power void in their wake. As one US officer told the press: "Everybody would like a Marine posted outside their door for their personal protection but there...