Iraqi Battalion Refuses to ‘Fight Iraqis’

April 11th, 2004 - by admin

Thomas E. Ricks / Washington Post – 2004-04-11 16:11:57

Iraqi Battalion Refuses to ‘Fight Iraqis’

BAGHDAD (April 10, 2004) Washington Post — A battalion of the new Iraqi army refused to go to Fallujah earlier this week to support US Marines battling for control of the city, senior US Army officers here said, disclosing an incident that is casting new doubt on US plans to transfer security matters to Iraqi forces.

It was the first time US commanders had sought to involve the postwar Iraqi army in major combat operations, and the battalion’s refusal came as large parts of Iraqi security forces have stopped carrying out their duties.

The 620-man 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi Armed Forces refused to fight Monday after members of the unit were shot at in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood in Baghdad while en route to Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim stronghold, said US Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, the official overseeing the development of Iraqi security forces.

The convoy then turned around and returned to the battalion’s home on a former Republican Guard base in Taji, a town north of the capital.

Not a Mutiny, Just a ‘Command Failure’
Eaton said members of the battalion insisted during the ensuing discussions: “We did not sign up to fight Iraqis.” He declined to characterize the incident as a mutiny, but rather called it “a command failure.”

The refusal of the battalion to perform as US officials had hoped poses a significant problem. The cornerstone of the United States’ strategy in Iraq is to draw down its military presence and turn over security functions to Iraqis.

Over the past two weeks, that approach has suffered a severe setback as Iraqi security forces have crumbled in some parts of the country. In recent days perhaps 20 percent to 25 percent of the Iraqi army, civil defense, police and other security forces have quit, changed sides, or otherwise failed to perform their duties, a senior Army officer said Saturday.

“I wouldn’t say it is so widespread that it’s the majority,” the senior officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But it concerns us.” Eaton added: “The lines are blurring for a lot of Iraqis right now, and we’re having problems with a lot of security functions right now.”

All it Takes Is One…
A soldier with the 1st Armored Division, who has recently been engaged in combat in Baghdad, said many of the Iraqi security troops with whom he has worked are no longer reporting for duty. “I think what we are seeing is not some mass quitting and mutiny by ICDC [Iraqi Civil Defense Corps], but rather just plain fear,” the soldier said. “And all it takes is one Iraqi to take the lead in leaving, and they all do out of fear.”

When the 2nd Battalion graduated from training camp on Jan. 6, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hailed it as a major part of the future of Iraq. Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the US commander on the ground in Iraq, attended the ceremony and said: “We are now into the accelerated period of providing Iraqi security forces, and these soldiers look very proud, very dedicated. I have high expectations that in fact they would help us bring security and stability back to the country.”

The battlefield refusal of the battalion — one of just four that exist in the Iraqi army — began Monday when it was ordered to travel about 60 miles to support the Marines, then locked in battle with fighters in Fallujah. The mission of the Iraqi troops was to help with secondary military tasks such as manning road checkpoints and securing the perimeter, Eaton said.

One of the problems, Eaton said, was that the Iraqi troops were not told they would be given a relatively benign role, and assumed they were being hurled into the middle of a bloody fight, battling on the side of the Americans against Arabs. “The battalion thought it was going to be thrown into a firestorm in Fallujah,” he said.

Complicating communications, he said, was that the battalion had 10 new US advisers who rotated into their jobs April 1, just four days before the incident, replacing the advisers who had trained the unit for months.

The battalion, traveling by truck and escorted by troops from the US Army’s 1st Armored Division, passed through a Shiite area in northwest Baghdad. They were fired on, and six members of the unit were wounded, one seriously, Eaton said. A crowd of Shiites gathered and “surged” at the convoy, he said. “They were stunned that they were taken under fire by their fellow population,” he said.

The battalion was then sent back to Taji, where preparations were made to fly it to the Fallujah area. But opposition to the mission stiffened, Eaton said, “so we decided not to involve them in the Fallujah operation.”

Did Other Iraqi Battalions Refuse to Fight their Contrymen?
Accounts differ on whether the other Iraqi battalion based at Taji also indicated that it would decline to go to Fallujah. Eaton said it was not involved, because it was not yet deemed ready to fight.

But the other Army official said that a decision was made not to force the issue with that unit’s commanders. “I don’t think they pushed them to the brink where they said, ‘Hell, no, we won’t go,’ ” the official said.

The two senior officers also differed on what motivated the refusal. The Iraqi rebuff was based on “pure fear,” said the Army official. “They just got cold feet.”

But Eaton, who visited the unit the day after the incident, disagreed. He noted that Iraqi troops have “fought very, very bravely” against Iran. He said that, in his view, the problem was caused by poor leadership and complicated by the fact that the unit was trained by US advisers who emphasized that their job would be to defend Iraq against outside forces.

Eaton, who oversees the organization, training and equipping of the Iraqi army, the civil defense force, the police, security guards and border patrol, said the recalcitrant battalion’s Iraqi leadership would be “reorganized.”

He also said that training would be different for future battalions, and handled almost exclusively by Iraqi officers, a group of which recently finished re-training in Jordan. “They will train their own men,” he said.

Eaton, who previously was chief of infantry training for the US Army, said that solutions would be found to the setback. “Is it disappointing? Obviously,” he said. “We’re just going to work our way through it.”

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Iraqi Allies Warn US over Falluja, Call US Tactics ‘Genocide’

BAGHDAD (April 9, 2004) Iraq’s US-appointed governing council have condemned the US military operation in Falluja after four days of bitter fighting. One member described the operation as “genocide” after doctors in the Sunni Muslim city of 300,000 reported 450 deaths and 1,000 injured this week.

The fugitive leader of the country’s parallel Shia unrest has demanded the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The US has declared a truce in Falluja but fighting continued as night fell.

Gunfire and mortar blasts echoed across the city west of Baghdad and a marine officer who spoke to AFP news agency on condition of anonymity predicted it would “get worse before it gets better”.

Another officer, Maj Pete Farnum, said his men had tried to keep the noon (0800 GMT) truce on Friday but attacks by militants had not eased. “We went into pause but the enemy kept attacking us on the western side of the city,” he said. “We had to defend ourselves so we asked for permission to return to offensive operation. This was granted.”

However, the ferocity of the battle for the city appeared to have eased since the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, announced the 24-hour truce to allow for peace talks. US troops are said to be allowing women and children to leave the city but are stopping men as they search for suspects in the killing and horrific mutilation of four American security guards in Falluja at the end of March.

Coalition Lashed
Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni Muslim member of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), said he was ready to resign if the US did not seek a peaceful solution to the crisis in Falluja. “How can a superpower like the US put itself in a state of war with a small city like Falluja? This is genocide,” he told AFP news agency on Friday, the first anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Fellow IGC member Adnan Pachachi said the Falluja offensive was “illegal and totally unacceptable” whilst Kurdish IGC member Mahmoud Uthman described US policy as counter-productive.

The Iraqi interim Human Rights Minister, Abdel Basit Turki, and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council’s rotating presidency, Iyad Allawi, both resigned on Friday without giving a reason for their decision.

Moqtada Sadr, the radical cleric whose followers have been directing violent unrest in Shia areas since Sunday, has demanded the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq. Speaking in a sermon read out at Friday Prayers by an aide in the town of Kufa, he said US President George W Bush could no longer point to Saddam Hussein or weapons of mass destruction as reasons to be in Iraq. “You are now fighting an entire nation, from south to north, from east to west, and we advise you to withdraw from Iraq,” said Mr Sadr, who is the subject of a coalition arrest warrant.

‘Serious’ Threat
President Bush has been consulting other coalition leaders by telephone, speaking to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and El Salvadoran President Francisco Flores. A senior US commander, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, said in Baghdad that operations to quell Shia unrest were going well.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said the coalition is facing its “most serious” threat since the end of the war. The US has reported the deaths of at least 42 of its soldiers in combat since Sunday and militants are holding a number of foreign nationals hostage, including three Japanese citizens, two Palestinians and a Canadian. Russia has called on the sides in Iraq to show restraint and warned of “an impending humanitarian disaster” in Falluja.