[Marxism] US-trained Iraqi Soldiers Shot, Humiliated by Americans for Not Killing Iraqis
M. Junaid Alam
junaidalam at msalam.net
Sat Apr 17 17:23:50 MDT 2004
As fierce fighting erupted in parts of Iraq in early April, the U.S.-led
coalition tried to deploy U.S.-trained Iraqi units to quell the
fighting. The results were disastrous: During the violence, many Iraqi
police and civil defense personnel abandoned their posts, or joined
Shiite militants loyal to renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. What’s more,
some soldiers of the first U.S.-trained battalion of the New Iraqi Army
(NIA) deserted their unit or refused to follow orders. “There were a
number of troops, there were a number of police that didn’t stand up
when their country called,” concedes coalition military spokesperson
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.
In exclusive interviews with NEWSWEEK, Iraqi soliders and civilian
witnesses described what happened.
When bloodshed erupted during the first week in April, the U.S. military
command scrambled to put down local uprisings led by Shiite militants in
the south and by Sunni extremists in and around Fallujah. U.S.
authorities wanted to give Iraqi troops a pivotal role in maintaining
security in Fallujah and in the largely Shiite community of Shulla on
the northwest edge of Baghdad. The idea was to show Iraqis taking
responsibility for security matters, and to help U.S. personnel lower
their profile in preparation for the Coalition Provisional Authority’s
transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi institutions on June 30.
The job fell to the 2nd Battalion of the New Iraqi Army, deployed at the
Taji Military Complex northwest of Baghdad. Its 620 men had graduated
from the Kirkush boot camp in January, and were the first Iraqi army
soldiers to be deployed in a field military operation since the U.S.
began reconstituting the post-war army.
One of the first signs of trouble was a terse U.S. statement, issued on
April 11, confirming that an Iraqi army unit had refused to deploy to
the conflict in Fallujah after being shot at in a Shiite neighborhood of
Baghdad. But battalion members, some of whom were fired, and other
eyewitnesses from Taji, paint a much more complicated and dramatic
portrait of the incident.
Fighting between coalition troops and pro-Sadr Shiite militiamen had
already broken out April 4 in southern Shiite cities and in Baghdad’s
sprawling slums Sadr City and Shulla when the battalion received news of
its mission. “We were first informed that we would have a task the next
day,” recalls army recruit Khadhim al-Zubaidy who has left his unit and
returned home in the southern city of Kut. “The American officers did
not reveal anything about the nature of the task they wanted us to
accomplish, and we didn’t even know where we were going,” says Zubaidy,
a Shiite. (Despite requests from NEWSWEEK to interview U.S. officers at
the Taji base about the incident, they declined to comment.)
The Iraqi soldiers were brought to Shulla, an impoverished community
where adrenaline-charged Shiite militants were angry about the detention
of one of Sadr’s top aides. Zubaidy said that his U.S. officers ordered
Iraqi soldiers to open fire on the angry crowd in Shulla. “The American
officers hysterically ordered us to shoot the 'traitors',” he recalls,
“We were not asked beforehand to go fight our people in Shulla. If we
had been….we would have resigned at the camp right away.”
Many Iraqi soldiers refused to fire, abandoned their weapons and fled
from the scene, says Zubaidy. Another soldier from the battalion, Hamid
Tamimi from Dijeil district in Salahuddin province, says some Iraqi
troops even turned against the Americans and opened fire on U.S.
personnel while chanting slogans and songs glorifying Sadr and his late
father. A number of Iraqi soldiers did stay by the side of the
Americans, Tamimi says, mostly from Kurdish militias. But most soldiers
from Iraq’s predominately Shiite southern cities fought against the
Americans, he alleges.
A number of residents in Shulla, some of whom took up arms against U.S.
troops, have similar accounts. Hayder al-Maliki, 26, received minor
wounds in the leg and the scalp from U.S. gunfire. He alleges that he
witnessed American personnel open fire on Iraqi soldiers they refused to
fight alongside the U.S. and sided with pro-Sadr forces. “In the
beginning the Americans tried to push the Iraqi army into the fight. But
when many of them declined, the Americans started to shoot at them”—and
even incited other Iraqi soldiers to “shoot their friends in the army,”
he says. His account could not be independently confirmed.
Iraqi officers and soldiers assigned as guards at the Taji military
complex reported that members of the 2nd Battalion who’d been deployed
on the mission returned later that day in two groups. Some came back in
cars with American personnel, weapons hanging on their shoulders. A
second group arrived on foot, without weapons, according to Ra’ad Ahmed,
a recruit who guards one of the gates of the camp.
The convoy that returned with the Americans—mostly Kurdish peshmerga
fighters—were then reinforced with other soldiers and sent to fight in
Fallujah, says Wissam Al-Majma’i, a first lieutenant in charge of
security at one of Taji’s gates. Neither U.S. personnel nor Kurdish
soldiers at the Taji base were willing to comment on the events of the
day. One of the Kurdish troops, on condition of anonymity, simply says
that “we are soldiers. We receive our orders from our military officers,
whether American or Iraqi, and we have to abide by these orders.”
The second group got a different reception. Eyewitnesses at the Taji
base report seeing the startling sight of soldiers from the 2nd
battalion clad only in their underwear. “I was surprised to see more
than 30 soldiers barefoot with only their underclothes on,” says Qais
Al-Dulaimi, a contractor for the Baghdad Tower Contracting Company
involved in U.S.-supervised reconstruction work in the camp. When
Dulaimi asked an Iraqi officer about the nearly naked soldiers, the
officer replied that they were being punished for disobeying military
orders. “I served in the army for more than ten years without
experiencing anything like this,” says Dulaimi.
In all, “about 70 Iraqi troops were left barefoot and without clothing
outside the camp,” says Sabah Majeed, a resident of Al-Mizrffa village
in the al-Taji river district. (The estimated figure of 70 was confirmed
by Wissam al-Majmaa’i, the first lieutenant guarding the camp’s gate.)
“They were told that they were sacked for non-compliance with military
orders, and had no hope of returning to military service. I helped about
18 of them, with assistance from local tribes and families,” says the
villager, who offered his own clothes to a soldier and drove off in his
BMW wearing just his underwear.
Dulaimi said he organized civilians to provide clothes, money and food
for some of the troops, as well as transport to Baghdad.
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