We get told constantly by the administration that we will leave Iraq once
they have enough troops trained to take over their own security. But what if the
troops are to scared to even leave their base? This is exactly what is happening
in the war-torn country.
Iraqi soldiers fear leaving training base
Members of the new Iraqi army being trained by US troops in the safe
confines of Taji military base, fear setting foot outside.
Taji, an old Iraqi military base just north-west of Baghdad, lies in the
heartland of the Sunni-led insurgency against the new, Shiite-led Iraqi
Government and its US backers.
“We’re all afraid. I can’t go outside the base wearing these military
clothes,” says Sergeant Abbas, listing colleagues who have fallen victim to
relentless insurgent attacks in the dusty towns and highways north of Baghdad.
“We all know soldiers who notice people photographing them with mobile
phones and being followed,” says the Shiite Muslim from Amara in relatively
calm southern Iraq.
He does not give his full name for fear of reprisals.
Training the new Iraqi army is essential for US plans to bring troops home
over the next year.
For the moment the 15,000 Iraqis at Taji are glad they rarely have to
venture outside in military attire.
“I can feel them following me and I’m scared of that,” said Lieutenant
Colonel Bassam Ismail, speaking of the militants.
In a country increasingly split along sectarian and ethnic lines, where the
minority Sunni Arabs dominant under Saddam Hussein resent the ascendancy of
Shiites and Kurds, the army is trying its best to stay above the fray, these
In an impromptu discussion about the state of the army most soldiers were
reluctant to state their sectarian affiliation.
“I’m prepared to say ‘I sacrifice my spirit and blood for you’ to any
leader, as long as the country works,” said Ismail, citing the classic street
slogan of the bygone Arab nationalist era, which was a favourite chant of
They criticised the decision to dissolve the old army, taken by the US
occupation authorities after they removed Saddam from power two years ago.
“There’s no way to get the high-level officers back into the army now,”
Some are believed to be helping the insurgency.
With the economy crippled by daily violence and political uncertainty, new
recruits are happy to have a steady job.
“Most ordinary soldiers join just for the salary,” one says.
“Don’t say that, we should say that it’s for the nation,” Lieutenant Shihab
Ahmed, a Kurd from Mosul, angrily interjects.
“We have Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and we all work together. The only
important thing is God, his Prophet and the way of his Prophet, isn’t that
Radical Sunni insurgents, who see themselves as upholding the Sunna, or
‘the way of the Prophet’, in the face of Shiite domination, think otherwise.
“I once received a letter from them saying I would die for being in this
‘cowardly army’,” Lt Ahmed said. “But I wouldn’t even call what they do
terrorism, it’s wrecking.”
This leaves me with even more doubt of our progress in Iraq. We hear one
thing from our Pentagon, then have to go half way around the world to hear
something else. I would love to be able to trust what our Pentagon is saying,
but we all know how credible they are. The fact that the Iraqi military is this
scared is a true indicator of the lack of progress that is being made fighting
the insurgency, and leads to even more evidence of civil war being inevitable.