BAGHDAD, Iraq - Lawlessness spread in Baghdad on Friday even as the fighting dwindled to occasional bursts of machine-gun fire. Thousands of Iraqis - including entire families - went on looting sprees and plundered the engineering and nursing colleges.
U.S. troops worked to hold key intersections and manned checkpoints on high alert against suicide attacks by hardcore Saddam Hussein loyalists.
"I feel like I'm in Beirut, Lebanon, waiting for the suicide bombers," said Army Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp. "We know they're holed up on the other side of the river and scattered around the city."
On Thursday night, a man strapped with explosives blew himself up at a a U.S. checkpoint near the Saddam City section of Baghdad. Four Marines were seriously wounded.
In the Al-Mansour district in western Baghdad, pro-Saddam bands of Arab volunteers manned sandbagged positions, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles. Residents said they were mostly Syrians. Three were eating sandwiches as they took cover in the middle of a flower bed island on the road.
Children as young as 10 and entire families - mother, father and the kids - took part in the looting. With the breakdown of Saddam's authority in the capital, there was not even a traffic cop in sight.
"Tell the Americans to stop the killing and the looting. We can't live like this much longer, with Muslims looting other Muslms," said 41-year-old Jabryah Aziz. "I need to feel safe so I can go and collect my food ration."
Officers with the 7th Marine Regiment said they received orders Thursday night to try to stop looting. The regiment planned to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew Friday in the area it patrols in eastern Baghdad.
Lt. Col. Michael Belcher, a battalion commander, said his priorities were first to protect key structures, such as the power system, and second to safeguard humanitarian sites like hospitals and aid distribution centers. Commercial buildings are last, he said.
"If I see them tearing down electrical infrastructure in some of these facilities, I'll step in to stop it," Belcher said. "What we found so far is that if you confront the looters, they'll put it down and go away."
The nursing college at Baghdad University was sacked along with the Engineering College Al-Mustansiriyah. Looters left with light fixtures, desks, water coolers and air conditioners.
At the Information Ministry, dozens of looters hauled out sofas, tables, chairs, electronic equipment and a refrigerator.
Fires burned throughout that part of the city. The Trade Ministry was still smoldering, apparently as a result of arson, as was one of the main markets in the city center.
Looters used stolen trucks to carry off their booty. Others used cars or pushcarts. Some of the cars had license plates indicating they were from outside the city.
Cars were stolen off the streets. If the thieves could not start the engines, they towed the cars away.
Bands of looters also roaming the residential areas, casing homes to see if the residents were home. Journalists trying to talk to the looters were robbed of money and cameras.
Long lines formed outside bakeries, garbage piled up on the streets along with debris from two days of looting.
Some people shot big grins at American soldiers and Marines or put down their prizes to offer a thumbs-up or a quick finger across the throat and a whispered word - "Saddam" - before grabbing their loot and vanishing.
"What we're doing today is making the transition to stabilization operations," said Army Col. David Perkins, a brigade commander. "We have a lot of civil affairs guys in the town working with hospitals and trying to get water and power back on."
U.S. troops hammered on the toppled statue of Saddam in a central square, breaking off pieces as souvenirs.
"It's memorabilia, it's for us being here, what we've done and what's to come, what the Iraqi people will have," said Marine Sgt. Leigh Hahn. "It's hopefully a new start for them, and down with the old and hope something else will rise up."