Many Iraqi Troops Are No-Shows in Baghdad

The U.S. asked for an extra 4,000 soldiers to shore up security. Only 1,000 reported, and the violence continues in and around the capital.

By Solomon Moore and Julian E. Barnes

Los Angeles Times

September 23, 2006

BAGHDAD — Only a quarter of the Iraqi army forces that had been designated more than a month ago to work on security improvements in the capital have arrived, a sign of continuing problems with the Iraqi government's ability to command and move its troops.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Thurman, who is in charge of military forces in Baghdad, said Friday that he had requested 4,000 additional Iraqi troops to help secure Baghdad and had received only 1,000 of them.

"Some of these battalions, when they were formed, were formed regionally," Thurman said in a video news conference with reporters at the Pentagon. "And some of the soldiers, due to the distance, did not want to travel into Baghdad."

Thurman's comments came on a day of continued violence in the country, including the execution-style slayings of nine Sunni Arabs dragged from a wedding dinner east of Baghdad by armed men who reportedly were wearing Iraqi uniforms.

"Three civilian cars and one minibus came to our house with armed men wearing Iraqi army uniforms," the groom's father, Mohammed Dulaimi, 61, told police. "They raided the house and asked to take some of the guests for routine investigations."

Police later found the bodies of nine wedding guests on Baghdad's outskirts. Each had been shot several times.

In all, at least 27 bodies were discovered in Baghdad on Friday. At least 15 other people, including a U.S. soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb in the capital, were slain in Iraq.

Even as the killings continued, Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York, saying that a continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq is "essential" while the nation builds its armed forces.

While in the U.S., Talabani met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other foreign ministers to urge them to make good on billions of dollars in reconstruction aid pledges.

"We are hopeful that the international community fulfills its obligations by providing the required resources to deal with the key priorities," he said.

After the establishment of Iraq's permanent government in May, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki announced a security plan aimed at controlling the sectarian violence that has destabilized Baghdad.

In July, U.S. officials said that despite the new measures, violence had worsened in the capital.

In August, U.S. and Iraqi officials announced a new plan to secure the city, saying they would bring in 4,000 Iraqi soldiers and 4,000 additional Americans. The U.S. contingent was beefed up in a move that proved controversial for the Pentagon: Officials extended the deployment of the 172nd Stryker Brigade and moved it from Mosul to Baghdad. The extension drew complaints from relatives of members of the Alaska-based unit.

But Thurman made it clear Friday that bringing in the Iraqi soldiers had proved even more difficult. Soldiers with the 1st Brigade of the 9th Division of the Iraqi army had been moved from Taji within 72 hours, Thurman said. But deploying the remainder of the force has been more challenging, with soldiers refusing orders to relocate to Baghdad.

Iraqi army units have refused deployment orders before, sometimes complaining of the travel involved and sometimes expressing concern that they would be thrust into uncomfortable sectarian confrontations.

In August, 100 soldiers in southern Maysan province refused to go to Baghdad. U.S. officials explained at the time that the unit's Shiite leaders said the troops were needed in Maysan. They also objected to being sent to the capital, where they believed they would have to fight Shiite militias.

U.S. officials also said Kurdish units had refused to be deployed from northern Iraq to Ramadi, in violent Al Anbar province.

But the problems may go beyond mere regional or sectarian loyalty and could reflect readiness problems.

The Iraqi army is not considered highly mobile; it lacks the armored transport vehicles or planes that would allow officials to quickly deploy large numbers of troops around the country.

Thurman said he was confident the Defense Ministry would obtain the additional soldiers in the next few weeks. He suggested that the lack of Iraqi troops was complicating operations in two Baghdad neighborhoods, Baya and Dura. Thurman said he wanted to put more Iraqi soldiers in those areas to work with the American battalion there.

"I felt like we needed more Iraqi security forces in those areas, and that's what I have told my superior commanders that I felt like we needed," he said.

There are 15,000 U.S. troops and 9,000 Iraqi troops in Baghdad, as well as 12,000 members of the Iraqi national police and 22,000 local police, Thurman said.

Asked how the Iraqi military could take control of the nation's security needs if it was unable to move troops around the country, Thurman said some of the units were able to quickly deploy — including the 1st Brigade of the 9th Division — while others were still being developed and trained.

"I wouldn't say it's not going well," Thurman said. "What I would tell you is I think the government is trying to come to grips with the security needs, and we have a determined enemy out there that's trying to disrupt this government, a democratic form of government. And we're here assisting them to work through these tough security issues."

Thurman said attacks had increased in the last week, and that they were mostly against U.S. and Iraqi military and police forces.

The wedding attack occurred at a party being held by the Dulaimi tribe, a large and powerful Sunni clan that probably will seek reprisals, police said. All of the kidnapped guests were men, including three brothers, who farmed and raised cattle in the agricultural areas ringing the capital.

A police source, who said the father reported the kidnappings at a local station, said officers were unlikely to investigate, because they fear that Sunni insurgents operate in the area.

In west Baghdad, Shiite militiamen set fire to two buildings occupied by two prominent Sunni political parties and ordered all Sunnis out of the neighborhood.

Responding firetrucks were turned away by militiamen who fired assault rifles in the air. The Associated Press reported that four people were killed in the confrontation.

"Today we are living under exceptional circumstances. Today we live in violence of all kinds," Sheik Mahmoud Sumaidaie said in his Friday sermon at Umm Qura, a leading Sunni mosque in Baghdad.

"There are people who are destroying, people who are forcing others to leave their houses, there are [Shiite clerics] keeping silent, some decent people are keeping silent. The state is keeping silent."

In ousted President Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, a local association of Sunni clerics organized at least 1,000 protesters to carry posters of Hussein and demand he be restored to power. The protesters demanded the release of 20,000 detainees, an end to military raids on Sunni neighborhoods and denounced Pope Benedict XVI's recent statements about Islam.

A ruptured pipeline struck by insurgents Thursday continued to burn southwest of Samarra, also north of Baghdad. A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said he was unaware of the breach.

Friday prayers and exhortations for peace during the coming Ramadan period of fasting gave way to stormy political speeches at some mosques. While Sunni clerics called on the government to protect them from Shiite militias and U.S. assaults, Shiite holy men called for harsher measures against insurgents.

In Najaf, Shiite cleric Sadruddin Qubanchi swept aside the United Nations' recent expression of concern over the prospect of civil war in Iraq.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan "said that Iraq is on the brink of a civil war," Qubanchi said.

"But we have another reading for the situation. We believe that Iraqis are heading toward the elimination of terrorism rather than civil war."

The cleric said that the Iraqi government was being too soft on the insurgents and that the violence persisted because of "the absence of punishment." He demanded that Hussein receive the death penalty.

"Execution! Execution!" hundreds of worshipers chanted.

Moore reported from Baghdad and Barnes from Washington. Times correspondents in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Tikrit and Najaf contributed to this report.