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U.S.-trained Iraqi forces failed to support U.S. troops

BAGHDAD, Iraq—In Ramadi, U.S. troops gave two-way radios to Iraqi forces, not for communications, as they claimed, but so they'd know when their allies were phoning Marine positions to the enemy.

In Sadr City and Najaf, Iraqi police asked permission from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr—the man they were expected to capture or kill—before they reported to work.

In Fallujah, at least two Iraqi battalions refused to join the fight against insurgents.

Coalition forces fighting for the hearts and minds of Iraqis are struggling even with those on their payroll, those who are supposed to be standing shoulder to shoulder with them. Iraqi politicians say the situation was predictable and is going to get worse.

U.S. and coalition officials insist that the situation hasn't deteriorated, that Iraqi units—formed only after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime—are too raw to be counted on. They are developing.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt this week said: "It was clear over the last couple of weeks that the progress we had hoped to have been made thus far in the Iraqi security forces is not as far along as we would have expected. ... That will take some time. It will take some equipping. But that's why the coalition forces remain here and will remain here for a long period of time."

It's not as simple as training and equipment, according to Iraqi officials.

Iraqi opinion polls show a decreasing level of comfort with the direction of post-invasion Iraq. When asked what polls conducted this weekend would show about American popularity, pollster Sadoun al Dulame put his head in his hands.

When asked about Iraqi defense forces, government spokesman Hajim al Hasani joked, "What defense forces? We don't have any."

But he knows they do. The coalition spent millions of dollars recruiting, training and paying police officers and members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, who combined number more than 200,000. In the past months, the police have born much of the brunt of insurgent attacks, with an estimated 350 killed.

But Hasani said having large numbers and good training meant little.

"Our society is shattered," he said. "It isn't that the soldiers who run away or join with the other side aren't good soldiers, aren't well-trained or well-equipped. It's that they don't yet believe in Iraq as a cause, and they do not believe at all in the cause of the coalition."

Nor should they, some add. They point to Article 59 in the Transitional Administrative Law, a sort of pre-constitution, that begins: "The permanent constitution shall contain guarantees to ensure that the Iraqi Armed Forces are never again used to terrorize or oppress the people of Iraq."

The article states that Iraq will take part in the multinational peacekeeping force and will fight terrorism. But many Iraqis aren't convinced the issues in Fallujah, Ramadi and Najaf are about terrorism.

"Those fighting right now are Iraqis," said al Dulame, the executive director of the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies. "They want the coalition out, but they are Iraqis. We hated Saddam because he used the army that was supposed to protect our people against us. Many here do wonder: How is this different?"

Al Dulame said not only was the current situation predictable, but that he wasn't alone in predicting it.

"They are being asked to kill their brothers on orders from a foreign government," he said. "To many Iraqis, they are heroes, not cowards, to refuse."

And having Kurdish militia members attached to the 36th Battalion at Fallujah was a mistake, al Dulame said, one that inflames old hatreds between Kurds and Sunnis and gets the rest of the nation thinking about ethnic divisions again.

Some in Iraq have done much more than refuse to fight alongside Americans. Nowhere has this been as evident as for the Marines in Ramadi and Fallujah. Among those killed by Marines in Fallujah were many wearing police equipment. In Ramadi, a Knight Ridder photographer with U.S. troops witnessed Iraqi police and soldiers among those who twice ambushed a Marine company, which killed 14 Marines in one week.

In the second ambush, some of the Iraqi soldiers—officially there to help the Marines maintain peace—were wearing old U.S. Marine uniforms and body armor.

The situation was so obvious that U.S. officers offered Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members two-way radios, saying they would help maintain contact. They also were used to monitor Iraqi soldiers who alerted insurgents to the Marines' movements.

Last week in Sadr City, while coalition officials were announcing they had complete control of all government buildings in the sprawling suburban slum, a police official negotiated with a representative of al-Sadr, almost begging to be allowed to return to work.

In Najaf, when explaining why police abandoned their posts, Police Chief Ali al Yasseri said, "We can't arrest everybody."

It's not a complete picture of the situation in Iraq, but many believe it's an increasingly accurate one.

In the words of one senior Iraqi political adviser, who could not be named for security purposes: "It's a disaster, the entire security situation that the coalition has constructed. The intelligence service is a joke. The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps are implicated in the mutilation of the Americans (in Fallujah). Fifty percent of the ICDC mutinied. Some did their jobs. Some ran away. Some joined Muqtada."

Governing Council member Mahmoud Othman, who said he was joyous when the coalition toppled Saddam, said the security strategy since has been a series of blunders. He questioned the decision last year to disband the Iraqi military, which put a lot of men with a lot of weapons on the streets, having lost their jobs, futures and dignity.

He questioned sending new trainees off for a couple months, then deciding they were ready for the realities of life in Iraq. He likened it to creating an entire force of rookie police officers and an army without experienced soldiers.

He said huge mistakes were made by trying to control Fallujah and Ramadi by force, which appears to have brought hundreds or thousands of former Iraqi soldiers into the streets to fight against the United States.

"The policy in Fallujah has been a disaster from the start," he said. "No Iraqi should be in a position where they have to follow the orders of an outsider. But even if they would have before, the situation now makes it quite impossible."

(Philadelphia Inquirer photographer David Swanson contributed reporting to this story from Ramadi, as did Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Najaf, Iraq.)

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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