Siege of Fallujah provokes second mutiny

By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad

29 April 2004


A second unit of the Iraqi armed forces has mutinied at Fallujah after being involved in heavy fighting with insurgents Ali Allawi, the Iraqi Defence Minister, said yesterday.

Part of the 36th battalion of the paramilitary Iraqi Civil Defence Corps revolted last week after the unit had been fighting in the besieged city for 11 days, the minister told The Independent yesterday. Mr Allawi blamed the mutiny on "a failure of command. The commanding officer was absent, his deputy ... was seriously wounded and the number three faltered".

At the start of the siege of Fallujah three weeks ago, one of the five battalions of the newly formed Iraqi army refused to go to the city because many of its soldiers were not prepared to fight fellow Iraqis.

But news of the mutiny of a second Iraqi unit had not been released. Mr Allawi said US Marines "had to separate those who did want to fight from those who would not".

The battalion may have split along ethnic lines. Its soldiers were recruited from the militiamen of the Iraqi political parties which belong to the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, and about half were Kurdish soldiers, known as peshmerga. The Kurds were prepared to fight but Iraqi Arab soldiers said they had had enough. Those who refused to fight were withdrawn from the battlefield for retraining.

Some members of the governing council have said that the performance of the 36th battalion showed a new Iraqi army should be recruited from politically committed militiamen and party members.

At the start of the uprisings, after the US moved against the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr, 40 per cent of the US-trained Iraqi security forces went home and 10 per cent changed sides, the US military said.

Mr Allawi, long exiled in London, won a reputation for efficiency while Iraqi minister of trade, a job he still holds. He is trying to raise an 80,000-strong Iraqi army, of whom 35,000 will be regulars and 40,000 to 45,000 will be in the paramilitary defence corps.

He says the poor performance of the Iraqi security forces stems from poor leadership and lack of training. Asked who will command the new Iraqi army, Mr Allawi said firmly: "I will give the orders." He added with a laugh: "I do not mean that in any Napoleonic sense."

He said the battalion which refused orders to move from Taji north of Baghdad to Fallujah was not told what it would be doing, and its men thought, wrongly, they would be thrown into the thick of the fighting.

Priority is being given to creating a 10,000-strong emergency task force in the army which will deal with sudden crises such as that which has engulfed Iraq this month. The Interior Ministry is also developing Swat teams for emergencies. One problem for the Iraqi army is that the men are being paid only $60 a month, less than garbage collectors in Baghdad, for a dangerous job. "Somebody wanted an army on the cheap," Mr Allawi said.

He believed re-employing officers who used to be Baathists was "something of a red herring. There are only 30 slots for generals in the new army and there are 11,000 generals in Iraq [Saddam Hussein promoted men to the rank for a better pension]".

Mr Allawi said the real problem was that people who were in the Baath party, and Republican and Special Republican Guard around Baghdad "have begun to re-coalesce. In a place like Baquba maybe there is a hard core of 100 or 200 people though they may not have been senior before." He believes Islamic militants play a stiffening rather than a central role.

Fighting continued in the outskirts of Fallujah yesterday. US Marines used helicopter gunships and aircraft to attack lorries carrying ammunition.