A few months before the war, Saddam Hussein freed about 100,000 prisoners, most of them hardened criminals. Now, with security tenuous across Iraq and Baghdad plagued by crime and fear, U.S. officials are blaming that general amnesty for much of the chaos.
In interviews across the capital Friday with more than 30 Iraqis, many of them agreed.
"Security will not return to the country until all the prisoners return to jail," said Khalil al-Baaj, a police lieutenant who said he was stalked by a freed killer.
Meanwhile, in Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and signaled that he would support a U.S. resolution at the United Nations to end sanctions against Iraq. Analysts in Germany called it a major gesture toward repairing a relationship that was badly torn by the German government's opposition to the war in Iraq.
Even though police in Baghdad have begun returning to work -- and the U.S. Army has sent in 2,000 military policemen -- many of the 5 million residents of the Iraqi capital are afraid to venture out at night. Reports stream in of kidnappings, rapes and carjackings.
"I've stopped looters, run political parties out of abandoned buildings, caught people with large amounts of cash and weapons," said U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Cody Williams. The work, he said, is aimed at "trying to keep the bad guys off the streets so the good guys can have normal lives."
Williams said many of the people he had arrested were former prisoners who "are making their way back to prison."
Yet he also said most of the ex-convicts were not looting but rather were carrying out violent crimes -- armed robbery, murder, kidnapping.
In Baghdad, many people say they resent the Americans for not stopping the chaos. Others are asking different questions. How much of the unrest, they wonder, is related to that amnesty and the criminals it set free?
"Saddam probably felt he would gain popularity with the people and win their support in the war. . . . He probably hoped the armed gangs would confront the Americans," said Capt. Hadi al-Dilaymi, a Baghdad police officer.
During the meeting in Berlin between Schroeder and Powell, both sides made offers of reconciliation, but there were clear signals from Powell that bitterness still lingers, especially in the Oval Office.
The secretary of state disappointed German hopes that Schroeder could see President Bush one-on-one at an upcoming international summit, saying on German television that there "won't be enough time at a meeting such as that for bilateral meetings or long conversations." He said the two will merely speak with each other in "a group setting."
Schroeder was upset at the continued snubbing by Bush, the German press said.
Despite Germany's apparent willingness to agree to the U.S.-backed resolution, Russia, China and France made clear Friday they want major changes in it.
With Bush's administration pushing for a vote next week, Security Council members finished a paragraph-by-paragraph review of the nine-page revised draft resolution late Friday. Many continued to call for a stronger U.N. role in postwar Iraq.
In other developments Friday:
Amnesty International was investigating claims that British and American troops tortured prisoners of war in Iraq with beatings that carried on all night and, in at least one case, electric shocks.
Between 15,000 and 30,000 Baath Party officials will be banned entirely from any future Iraqi government, a senior U.S. official said, adding that the move aims to "put a stake" in the heart of Saddam's former ruling party.
A near-capacity crowd turned out to see the first soccer match since the downfall of Saddam and to cheer Rad Hamoudi -- Iraq's greatest star and long considered one of the Arab world's best goalies, fresh from years in exile. "This is a happy day, a new day for Iraq and Iraqi soccer," said Hamoudi, who captained the 1986 national World Cup squad before he was forced to flee to Jordan to escape Saddam's regime.
A team of Americans prepared to assess damage at Iraq's largest nuclear facility, weeks after the site was plundered by looters.
U.S. authorities said they are scaling back the estimates of how much treasure was looted from Iraq's National Museum after discovering that museum officials have been stashing items in secret vaults for at least 13 years. Museum officials have squirreled away gold, manuscripts and other treasures in the vaults since at least 1990, before the start of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, to protect them from looters, said U.S. Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, a reservist who also works as a prosecutor in New York.