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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Sunday | May 25, 2003

Why not paying troops is a bad idea

Their Jobs in Jeopardy, Iraqi Troops Demand Pay

BASRA, Iraq, May 24 Iraqi soldiers complained bitterly today of the allies' plans to disband the country's armed forces, with some threatening to take up arms against occupying American and British troops unless their salaries were continued.

About 50 Iraqi soldiers marched to one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces here in this southern city to air their grievances. They were turned away without incident by heavily armed British soldiers at the front gate. Similar complaints were raised by soldiers in Baghdad.

"If they don't pay us, we'll start problems," said Lt. Col. Ahmed Muhammad, 41, a 25-year navy veteran based in Basra and a leader of the disgruntled Iraqi soldiers. "We have guns at home. If they don't pay us, if they make our children suffer, they'll hear from us."

Other soldiers made similar threats. They said they followed the instructions laid out in the leaflets dropped by allied aircraft before the war encouraging them not to fight on behalf of Mr. Hussein.

"The U.S. planes dropped the papers telling us to stay in our homes," said an Iraqi tank driver here who refused to give his name. "They said our families would be fine."

On Friday, L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, issued an order dissolving Iraq's armed forces, abolishing institutions that he said "constituted and supported the most repressive activities of Saddam Hussein's regime."

Why is this incredibly, mindnumbingly stupid?

Because they stayed at home when they could have been killing Americans. We wouldn't be paying them because they worked for Saddam, but to keep them from working for the militias. A soldier who can feed his family and keep his dignity is going to be loath to put both at risk. Making them clean up after looters is a bad idea.

Sure, a new army would be nice, but the old Army is filled with people who have no stake in American success. Debaathisation is not like De-Nazification in a couple of ways, one of which is that joining the Nazis was voluntary. Joining the Baath was required for a job.

The last thing a smart person would want is all those angry soldiers with no money and only menial labor awaiting them. But our Iraq policy is being made up as we go along with myth as our guide. Paying them not to fight was clever enough, something I doubted which happened at the time. But then, we win the war and we don't continue to pay them? Why? Because their military skills have evaporated?

I can't say which I find more grimly amusing, the refusal to pay Iraqi troops or the threat of imprisonment for owning an AK-47. Look, this isn't suburban Maryland or Tonbridge Wells. These people are armed because of criminal gangs running loose and no policing. They are not going to hand over their weapons because you'll jail them for three weeks. One too many weapons hunts may trigger a full fledged firefight.

All of these policies are shortsighted and look to be insanely counterproductive in both the short and long term. I'd pay the Iraqi soldiers enough to keep them out of trouble and then train and vet them for a new Army. Not have them stew about their lack of money, starving families and being treated as pariahs.

That's a great situation to create a full-fledged underground guerrilla Army. These guys are asking for their pay. Their next request may come with a bullet attached.

Steve Gilliard

Posted May 25, 2003 11:46 AM | Comments (29)


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