US holding 200 Iraqi ‘mutineers’

[ According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Reuters reports that “US forces have detained around 200 Iraqi paramilitary” who refused to kill their fellow Iraqis in Fallujah. “They were bombing the city with warplanes and using cluster bombs. I could not be a part of this,” a Kurdish soldier said. –BL ]

April 18, 2004 | Sydney Morning Herald / Reuters

US forces have detained around 200 Iraqi paramilitary soldiers who refused to take part in a US offensive against the Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah, their former comrades said on Saturday.

The US military declined to confirm whether the men were being held.

Senior officers play down the significance of such incidents but, asked about reports of mutiny among Iraqi troops, have acknowledged a “command failure” took place during the Fallujah offensive.

Soldiers from the Baghdad-based 36th Security Brigade, part of the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC), said that last week US commanders took them at night to Fallujah, west of the capital, where US forces were massing to crush a growing insurgency.

“They told us to attack the city and we were astonished. How could an Iraqi fight an Iraqi like this? This meant that nothing had changed from the Saddam Hussein days. We refused en masse,” said Ali al-Shamari.

Fallujah has been a flashpoint for attacks on US forces since Saddam was toppled last year. The city is inhabited by minority Arab Sunnis, many of whom complain they are worse off under the occupation than under Saddam, a fellow Sunni.

US Marines began a major assault on Fallujah on April 5 after the killing and mutilation of four US private security guards in the city the previous week. Doctors say more than 600 Iraqis have died in fighting in Fallujah since then.

Shamari said the brigade members did not know they were heading to Fallujah until they arrived there.

After the brigade refused to fight, he said, soldiers were stripped of their badges and confined to tents in a US base on the outskirts of Fallujah. Their rations were restricted to one meal per day.

“I escaped, but around 200 of our comrades remain there. We demand their release,” Shamari said.

The 36th brigade, according to four of its members, comprises 340 soldiers from the former Iraqi army and the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia that once fought Saddam’s forces.

Ali Hussein, a Shi’ite private, said the brigade’s mission since its formation had been security tasks such as conducting searches and guarding buildings.

“Suddenly, we were asked to take part in a huge offensive,” Hussein said, adding that he felt sympathy for Fallujah residents although they were from the Sunni minority who had dominated the Shi’ites for decades.

Bukhtiar Saleh, a Kurdish soldier, said US heavy-handedness had discouraged him from fighting.

“They were bombing the city with warplanes and using cluster bombs. I could not be a part of this,” he said.

Human rights groups and several leading Iraqi politicians have denounced US action in Fallujah, calling it collective punishment of a whole town for the violent actions of a minority.

The US army says it has not targeted civilians. The Sunni insurgency and a separate Shi’ite revolt is testing the resolve of thousands of Iraqi security forces hastily formed after Saddam’s government fell last year.

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