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Mosques encourage looters to return stolen goods

[Iraq] Baghdad looting continues.
Equipment looted from Baghdad hospitals is slowly being returned (Mike White)

Religious leaders have appealed to looters to return medical equipment stolen from hospitals in Baghdad. At Al-Husayniyah District's Majd al-Arab Primary School, boxes of medicines, trolleys, monitoring and other hospital equipment filling one of the classrooms testify to the campaign's success.

"After the war, many people began saying that it was permissible to steal or loot anything connected to the old regime," said Sa'id Baqir al-Sa'di, a sheikh at the local mosque. "We had to send cars with megaphones into the streets, asking people to return stolen medicine, equipment, cars, trucks, and the like. We said that whether they belonged to the government or are privately owned, it is forbidden to take them."

The mosque also issued a fatwa, or religious decree, which, according to Sa'di ruled that "it is not allowed to use anything [taken] in the looting, and the one who does this is an infidel". The fatwa was photocopied and passed out to worshippers for distribution.

Abbas Muhammad, a minibus driver, returned to the mosque two boxes of aspirin, four or five boxes of intravenous fluid and around 50 big boxes full of medical cotton, which he says he took from the hospital. "These things used to belong to the old regime. I thought they ought [now] to belong to the people, and I took them to sell later," Abbas said.

"I was not the only one. More than 1,500 people came to the hospital with me, with lorries, minibuses and cars, to take the material away," he said. "I saw a kid steal a wheelchair, load it down, and push it away in the street."

However, when he heard the loudspeaker announcements saying that anyone who looted, or helped in looting, was an infidel, Abbas had second thoughts. "My conscience woke up. I respect men of religion. This is the nature of people in Iraq," Abbas said. "I decided to go myself and give these things back to the mosque."

The mosque's main challenge now is to assemble the goods and transport them back to the hospital.
Last Friday's sermon at Al-Husayniyah's Al-Nur mosque called on Baghdad's youth to volunteer to help in transporting the medicine and equipment turned in by the looters, and also to volunteer to clean the roads and guard the streets at night.

Volunteers say they joined up partially because there's little work to be done, and partially to restore a sense of the civic pride that had died under the old regime. "I joined the popular committee as a form of national service, as we were formerly deprived from being able to help the country," says Tamir al-Tamimi, formerly employed in a leather workshop.

Meanwhile, the men of religion are also taking steps to ensure that there is no more looting. "From 10 in the evening, volunteers from every street start to patrol with their guns," Sa'di says. "We ask the volunteers to blow their whistles in the evening to remind the people that there is a watchman looking after them."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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