Die Diebe von Bagdad
MaxCohen : Die Diebe von Bagdad
The thieves of Baghdad
Friday April 18, 2003
The Baghdad branch of Neighbourhood Watch has been completely overwhelmed this week. "If you notice anyone behaving in a vaguely suspicious manner, please contact the police immediately," say their little signs on the lamp-posts, but these were all brazenly nicked, along with everything else in the city that wasn't nailed down.
As the war stumbled to a confusing and chaotic end, lawlessness swept across the country as thousands of people helped themselves to computers, stereos and other electrical goods. Such is the state of anarchy in the country that many of them haven't even sent off the little guarantee postcards yet.
Western leaders have been reluctant to condemn the looters, perhaps because the clamour for material goods is partly what this war was all about: bringing western-style consumerism to a former Islamic "socialist" republic. With sufficiently aggressive advertising, within a few weeks the rioters will become vaguely dissatisfied with that Sony Playstation they seized and will feel the urge to go out and loot Playstation 2 with integral DVD player.
Meanwhile, in Iraq's own version of Supermarket Sweep, the population have been fighting their way out of the stores with as much as they could carry (though there was a separate aisle for those looting eight items or less). Particularly popular were all the goods with special promotional stickers on: "All this week - two for the price of none!" Or "Nick one, get another one free!" And then isn't it always the way - you load up the car with looted goods, check the wads of bank notes you grabbed when they asked "Do you want any cash back?", and then you realise you forgot to get your parking money back from the girl on the till.
In the traditional Arab markets, traders attempted to haggle with the mob as they eyed the various trinkets and souvenirs on display.
"That is a beautiful hand-carved statue, sir. That is 100 dinar."
"Hmmm. Tell you what, I'll give you zero dinar for it."
"All right, 80 dinar. I can't go lower than that, sir, look at the craftsmanship ... "
"No, I think I'm going to stick with zero dinar, actually ... " said the looter as he brandished an old Russian machine gun.
"Um, well you drive a hard bargain. Zero dinar is my final price - take it or take it."
The former palaces of the Ba'ath leadership were also stripped and the gold taps and erotic paintings are expected to fetch a fortune if anyone can transport them to Romford market. In wartime, the media have a duty to convey a certain number of disturbing images, but showing us Saddam Hussein's taste in art is probably going too far.
Snakes wrapping themselves around missiles being ridden by naked women - surely the artist will have to stand trial for crimes against humanity. I suppose he was just grateful for the work after he lost that job designing all those 1970s heavy metal album covers.
Some commentators attempted to argue that this was the dispossessed taking back what was rightfully theirs. But the looting of the palaces probably had more to do with the mob knowing where all the best stuff would be. Once they'd symbolically pulled down one statue, they forgot about the politics and got on with helping themselves to as much gear as possible. Which is why their former dictator managed to hide so easily; in the midst of all the chaos, Saddam simply painted himself in metallic paint and is standing very, very still in a busy town square somewhere.
Gradually, order is being restored in the cities, with some stolen goods even being returned (although the Baghdad branch of Marks & Spencer is now refusing to exchange looted clothes for a different size).
But just when we thought the lawlessness was over, even more blatant incidents of looting have begun out of sight of the television cameras. With handkerchiefs masking half their faces, two rioters roughly the height of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld kicked in the gates of Iraq's largest oilfield and started to grab all the keys for the oil tankers. International onlookers were powerless to prevent the illegal behaviour of these heavily armed looters and billions of dollars of worth of crude oil, gas and petroleum were seized, not to mention all the free glasses.
"Yee-haw! It's all ours!" laughed the bandits. "Millions of barrels of the stuff! We can just help ourselves and no one can stop us!" shrieked the grey-haired one as he filled up the first tanker and headed for home.
"Yup, and this mask guarantees my anonymousinity!" said his leader. So, after all these years, there really is such a person as the Thief of Baghdad. Except, strangely, his accent sounded vaguely Texan.