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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Troops Get Nod to Shoot Iraqi Looters

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- United States military forces in Iraq will have the authority to shoot looters on sight under a tough new security setup that will include hiring more police officers and banning ranking members of the Baath Party from public service, U.S. officials said.

The far more muscular approach to bringing order to postwar Iraq was described by the new U.S. administrator, Paul Bremer, at a meeting of senior staff members Tuesday, the officials said. Bremer was expected to meet Wednesday with the leaders of Iraqi political groups seeking to form an interim government by the end of the month. "He made it very clear that he is now in charge," an official who attended the Tuesday meeting said. "I think you are going to see a change in the rules of engagement within a few days to get the situation under control."

Asked what this meant, the official replied, "They are going to start shooting a few looters so that the word gets around" that assaults on property, the hijacking of automobiles and violent crimes will be dealt with using deadly force.

How Iraqis will be informed of the new rules is not clear. U.S. officials in Iraq have access to U.S.-financed radio stations that could broadcast the changes.

A tougher approach overall appears to be at the core of Bremer's mandate from U.S. President George W. Bush to save the victory in Iraq from a descent into anarchy, a possibility feared by some Iraqi political leaders if steps are not taken quickly to check violence and lawlessness.

The officials said Bremer told his staff that his urgent priority was to rebuild a police force, especially in Baghdad, so it could be visible and available "on the streets."

Another tough measure that the officials said Bremer was eager to make public is a decree on "de-Baathification," the process of weeding out senior members of Hussein's political establishment to ensure that the Baath Party's totalitarian principles are not perpetuated.

U.S. officials said the decree on the Baath Party will prohibit its officials above certain ranks from serving in future governments.

Bremer appeared before the senior staff of the reconstruction administration with Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who has been in charge of the rebuilding mission under military command. Administration officials say Garner will leave his post after a few weeks.

According to people who attended the closed meeting, Bremer praised Garner's performance with words that were greeted with sustained applause. But questions linger about the Bush administration's decision to replace Garner and abruptly call home one of his top assistants, Barbara Bodine.

The wisdom of a speedy turnover was questioned Tuesday by some officials, who noted the acute crisis over crime and security in the capital.