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AFTER THE WAR

Retirees Rush Pension Office for First Emergency Payments

May 19, 2003|From Associated Press

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi agency responsible for paying pensioners handed out emergency cash for the first time Sunday, triggering hours of chaos as retirees and their families fought with U.S. troops to force their way into the Baghdad office building.

More than 5,000 retirees and their relatives showed up early Sunday to collect an initial $40 emergency payment designed to help them until Iraqi workers can reconstruct thousands of records looted after U.S. troops entered Baghdad.

The Iraqi Pension Department expects to pay more than 350,000 people in the next 30 days.

U.S. soldiers began stringing concertina wire around the building Saturday to secure the site. When huge crowds showed up Sunday morning, the Iraqis began trying to push their way into the building.

Troops struggled with the crowd, and many were cut when they fell into the wire. Some men tried to jump over the wire, and some women slapped and bit U.S. soldiers while trying to force their way in. Troops pointed their weapons at the Iraqis to persuade them to back away.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 06, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Iraqi pension -- A photo caption accompanying a May 19 Section A article on emergency payouts to pensioners in Baghdad said the people in the picture were trying to collect $20 payments. In fact, as the story stated, the payouts were $40.

More than a dozen men were detained and handcuffed, but they were released later. U.S. forces addressed the crowd using interpreters with bullhorns.

"We've appealed to the people to settle down, but they won't," said 1st Lt. Lars Nadig, whose platoon was protecting the building. "They don't care, they keep pushing, it's a free-for-all. They'll trample each other if we let them."

Some of the retirees collapsed in the intense summer heat and were treated by the soldiers. U.S. Army medics also treated those injured by the wire.

Moafa Attisha, director general of the Iraqi Pension Department, said he had expected the first day to be chaotic. He predicted things will calm down and the crowds will dissipate when people realize they will be paid only on their assigned days.

Attisha said he hoped to be making full pension payments in the next few months.

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