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Iraq's clerics help put lid on looting

After almost a week of chaos, Baghdad sees the first glimmers of a return to order.

Sheik Ali Jaburi used the loudspeaker at the top of his mosque's ochre minaret to do more than call the Muslim faithful to prayer on Monday.

He also broadcast his sermon to his neighborhood, demanding that people give up the loot they have plundered in the wave of mass theft that has swept Baghdad in recent days. And his call is being heeded.

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"Our people know in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong," Mr. Jaburi says. "I am asking God to help us make people understand that they must give stolen things back."

After almost a week of chaos and lawlessness, the Iraqi capital is showing the first tentative signs of a return to order. Though fires still burned in some government ministries Monday, some public buses are running again and vendors have reappeared on some streets.

Across the capital and elsewhere in Iraq, Muslim clerics are playing an important role in the recovery of looted valuables.

"Our first aim is to bring order," says Ali al-Gharawi, an imam at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Saddam City, a teeming slum in northeastern Baghdad. "Iraqi people have always been in contact with religious organizations, so they respect them."

In the western suburb of Al Doura, where Mr. Jaburi's mosque is located, life was still far from normal Monday. There was still no electricity in Baghdad, nor water in most of the city - but a few shopkeepers had pulled up their shutters for the first time in a week, barbers and bakers were doing brisk business, and black-shawled women sat on the sidewalk behind piles of vegetables and eggs.

At the Al Doura power station, which normally supplies three million Baghdadis - half the population - with their electricity, US Army officers met Monday with Iraqi officials to start bringing the dilapidated plant on line.

"We've liberated the people, now we want to get the place up and operational," says Brig. Gen. Steve Hawkins, the top US military official dealing with the capital's engineering problems.

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The Al Doura plant suffers not only from age and a lack of spare parts, but from damage done by US bombs during the war, and from a lack of fuel to power it. Pipes carrying both natural gas and fuel oil from the Kirkuk oilfields in northern Iraq were damaged during the war, according to Tony Matteus, a technician who stayed at the station throughout the war.

"We want to get the basic, minimum essential services up as soon as possible," General Hawkins says. "But it's a complex system, a big country and a big city," he adds, refusing to estimate how long it will take to restore electricity - and thus clean drinking water - to Baghdad.

In the meantime, a few of the city's institutions are struggling to work normally with power from emergency generators.

At the main door of the al Kindi hospital in central Baghdad, doctors, nurses and other staff returning to work for the first time in days added their names to lists of those reporting for duty on Monday. "Now they are trying to organize themselves," says Morton Rostrup, a Norwegian doctor with Doctors Without Borders. "The first phase was pretty catastrophic, and many hospitals were looted. There has been a kind of improvement, and we expect more people once this starts."

Outside, an ambulance pulled up, bringing not a patient but oxygen tanks, cardboard boxes of medicines and bundles of operating gowns which armed hospital staff had collected from mosques, warehouses and sometimes - by force - directly from looters.

On the other side of town, at the Al Doura power station, Nasser Ali pulled his pickup over at the gates to let soldiers from the 101st Airborne who are guarding the site check his load of filing cabinets, office chairs and other furniture.

"We found this in civilian homes, but the people who stole it are giving it back," says Mr. Ali, a driver at the plant. "This is my fifth trip today. The mosques are spreading the word that this (looting) is against the rules of our religion, and when religious leaders say something, people obey. They feel ashamed."

In a storehouse by his mosque, Mr. Jaburi picked through boxes of returned computers, bathroom fittings, electrical cable, military clothes, and transformers Monday, and showed off a gaudy purple wall clock.

"We are talking to people kindly, reminding them what Islam says, and asking them to search their consciences," he says. "We are asking them to go back to behaving like normal Muslim people."

Other clerics are less diplomatic. Outside one mosque in Al Doura, a knot of men emerging from noon prayers was abuzz with a fatwa - a religious ruling - said to have been issued by an imam in the holy city of Najaf, ordering wives to abstain from sexual relations with their thieving husbands until they returned their loot.

Scott Peterson in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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