Jobless Iraqi soldiers issue threats
The US de-Baathification policy would not allow senior officers to join a reconfigured military.
Across from Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace, jobless Iraqi military officers wait in the sparse shade of a tree. Their ultimatum to US authorities inside: Reverse the decision to dismiss the Iraqi Army en masse or face organized resistance next week.Skip to next paragraph
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Occupation authorities plan to start recruiting for the New Iraqi Corps, a successor to the army, by the end of the month. But as part of the de-Baathification process, L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian official in charge of postwar Iraq, announced that only demobilized enlisted soldiers are eligible. Any officers above the rank of lieutenant colonel will be excluded from public life altogether.
"By next Monday, if we don't have results, we will form a new Iraqi army, called the Armed Front Against the Occupation," warns Maj. Assam Hussein Il Naem, who says he represents about 160 officers - all trained men who could make life difficult for the US and British soldiers here. "New attacks against the occupiers will be governed by us. We know we will have the approval of the Iraqi people."
The army's disbanding is one of several components of the US de-Baathification policy, which has incensed thousands of Iraqis - including many who were not members of Mr. Hussein's Baathist Party. For Mr. Bremer's newly renamed Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA, last week's decision to dissolve the Iraqi military is a necessary step in the road to refashioning Iraq. But for many of the nearly 400,000 Iraqis who served in the military, it is a shocking move aimed at enfeebling the country - and one that leaves them jobless.
The tension is an example of the gap developing between the expectations of average Iraqis and the intentions of occupation authorities trying to run Iraq. While US and British forces hope to remake Iraq's military as a leaner, Baathist-free force, Iraqi officers feel that the two powers should be rewarding Iraqis for laying down their weapons during the war and paving the way for the invading forces to enter Baghdad.
And, as jobs supplied by the old regime - military or otherwise - have disappeared, few people have found sources of income to fill the gap.
Several thousand men protested earlier this week outside the Republican Palace. The protesters say they are trying to negotiate with US military officials to get their jobs back.
"We are demonstrating now because the Americans didn't fulfill what they promised in the pamphlets they dropped on the ground before the war," says Brig. Amer Abdul Ameer, a tall, tanned man in dark aviator sunglasses. If they don't reverse course, "I will be the first to carry out military attacks on the Americans."
The military is not the only institution that has been completely dissolved. Occupation authorities in Iraq will be putting about half a million Iraqis out of work when military and civilian employees are lumped together. Despite some talk of giving small severance payments to Iraqis whose jobs are deemed obsolete, many soldiers said they would not accept such fees in place of a job.
"We are aware of the difficulties the Iraqi de-Baathification policy has caused," Bremer said this week, adding that his authority is "trying to mitigate" the fact that so many average, even apolitical people have lost their jobs.