A Sad Young Iraqi Officer Saw No Sense in Fighting WAR IN THE GULF

March 10, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Dan Fesperman, of The Sun's Washington Bureau, reported from Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait.

He had lived in a sandbag bunker for three months, waiting for the first opportunity to surrender. Such was the fighting spirit of the Iraqi army as embodied by a sad young lieutenant named Mohammed.

When I first came across Mohammed, he was down on his knees in the sand. An Egyptian private stood a few feet away, pointing a bayonet at his head. The crackling sound of gunfire was still strong to the north, while rockets and artillery shells whizzed overhead on their way toward another part of Mohammed's army.

Mohammed was the first of hundreds of surrendering Iraqi soldiers I was to see during the next few days, and his words summed up the feelings of many.

First he talked of his loathing for his commander in chief, Saddam Hussein. "He is a criminal, and he is killing his people," Mohammed said.

Only a week earlier I had been in Amman, Jordan, where people didn't say such things about Saddam Hussein. They praised him, and lovingly mounted posters of his face on taxicabs, in shop windows and on the walls of their homes. When they saw his face, they saw a hero, a fellow Arab who had boosted their pride by daring to stand up to the powers of the West.

But there in the sand trenches of Kuwait, Mohammed wasn't talking of heroism, or of standing up to anybody. He was more interested in talking about how his president had dragged him into yet another war.

He spoke of his wife and two children, left behind in Baghdad. Earlier he had left them to spend six years fighting in the war with Iran. Not much of a life for a teacher, he figured, and not much of a life for his family.

He and his men would have deserted months earlier, but thefeared their families would be hanged in retaliation. So, he said, they did the next best thing.

As the Egyptian army approached, Mohammed ordered his men not to fight. Instead, they waited until the safest moment to emerge with their hands held high in surrender. As Mohammed spoke of this, others standing around him nodded that they'd done the same.

Then someone asked Mohammed about his family, and he began to sob uncontrollably. "I think that I shall not see them again," he said.

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