Iraqi Battalion Refuses to 'Fight Iraqis'
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 11, 2004; Page A01
BAGHDAD, April 10 -- A battalion of the new Iraqi army refused to go to Fallujah earlier this week to support U.S. Marines battling for control of the city, senior U.S. Army officers here said, disclosing an incident that is casting new doubt on U.S. plans to transfer security matters to Iraqi forces.
It was the first time U.S. 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 U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who is overseeing the development of Iraqi security forces. The convoy then turned around and returned to the battalion's post on a former Republican Guard base in Taji, a town north of the capital.
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 U.S. officials had hoped poses a significant problem for the occupation. The cornerstone of the U.S. 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."
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 U.S. 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 U.S. advisers who rotated into their jobs April 1, just four days before the incident, replacing the advisers who had trained the unit for months.
Anti-U.S. Outrage Unites a Growing Iraqi Resistance
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Published: April 11, 2004
“In Baghdad, Kufa, Najaf, Baquba and Falluja, interviews with Sunnis and Shiites alike show a new corps of men, and a few women, who have resolved to join the resistance.”
AGHDAD, Iraq, April 10 — Moneer Munthir is ready to kill Americans.
For months, he has been struggling to control an explosion of miserable feelings: humiliation, fear, anger, depression.
"But in the last two weeks, these feelings blow up inside me," said Mr. Munthir, a 35-year-old laborer. "The Americans are attacking Shiite and Sunni at the same time. They have crossed a line. I had to get a gun."
Ahmed, a 29-year-old man with elegant fingers and honey-colored eyes, has been planting bombs inside dead dogs and leaving them on the highway. He and a team of helpers have been especially busy recently.
"We start work after 11 p.m.," Ahmed said. "Our group is small, just friends, and we don't even have a name."
Khalif Juma, a 26-year-old vegetable seller, said he and his cousins bought a crate of Kalashnikov rifles last week.
"To be honest, we weren't like this before," he said. "But we're religious people, and our leader has been threatened. We would be ashamed to stay in our houses with our wives at a time like this."
A new surge of Iraqi resistance is sweeping up thousands of people, Shiite and Sunni, in a loose coalition united by overwhelming anti-Americanism. On March 31, insurgents in Falluja ambushed four civilian contractors and mutilated their bodies, and the fiery words of Moktada al-Sadr, the young radical Shiite cleric, a few days later prompted violent uprisings in four cities.
In Baghdad, Kufa, Najaf, Baquba and Falluja, interviews with Sunnis and Shiites alike show a new corps of men, and a few women, who have resolved to join the resistance. They also reveal a generation of young people inured to violence and hankering to join in the fighting.
There is no way to estimate the size of the mushrooming insurgent force, but demonstrations in several cities by armed and angry people indicate that it probably runs in the tens of thousands. Many people said they did not consider themselves full-time freedom fighters or mujahedeen; they have jobs in vegetable shops, offices, garages and schools.
But when the time comes, they say, they line up behind their leaders — with guns.
"I'm in my shop right now but if anything happens, I'll close up and take my weapon and join them," Mr. Juma said. "I'm ready."
Several people described a loose command structure. Mr. Juma said he supported Mr. Sadr but is not part of his militia, the Mahdi Army. He said he received instructions from an imam at a mosque near Kufa.
American officials have announced an arrest warrant for Mr. Sadr, who had entrenched himself in his hometown, Kufa, in southern Iraq, last weekend, then disappeared.
Many Iraqis have weapons, in part because the American-led occupiers have often failed to protect them from looters and other criminals. Now, people are taking their guns into the streets.
Ala Muhammad is a 24-year-old mechanic in Baghdad. He likes to work on trucks.
The other day, when trouble broke out in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Khadamiya, he dashed home from work, grabbed a clip for his Kalashnikov and took it out front.
"If the Americans come this way, we will fight them," Mr. Muhammad said. "I'm going to defend my house, my street, my land, my religion."
He stood on the sidewalk in sweat pants, without shoes.
"I like to fight barefoot," he said.
Mr. Muhammad said he recently joined the Mahdi Army. And while some of his neighbors watched him admiringly as he strapped on an ammunition belt and gulped down a glass of water before a battle started, others scowled.
"Many of these young men are just criminals," said Adil Hassan, a contractor. "We don't want them. We don't want their guns. The problem is, more and more are coming."
A whole generation of Iraqi youth is coming of age in the bitter heart of the resistance. When the four American security consultants were ambushed and killed in Falluja, it was a mob of boys that set the bodies on fire and dragged two to a bridge where they hung them over the Euphrates River.
Soran Karim, a 16-year-old with thick, man-size hands, said killing Americans was not just a good thing.
"It is the best thing," said Soran, outside a Falluja school. "They are infidels, they are aggressive, they are hunting our people."
His friend spoke up.
"We just want to play football — or marbles," said Omar Hadi, 12. "But the soldiers don't let us go out."
Another boy, Suhail Najim, 13, added: "We may be scared of their weapons. But we're not scared of them."