Ex-Iraqi soldiers riot over lack of jobs, pay

New army graduates 700 in first battalion

October 05, 2003|By Deborah Horan and Bill Glauber | Deborah Horan and Bill Glauber,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Mobs of former Iraqi soldiers rioted in two cities, demanding jobs and pay yesterday, while U.S. troops welcomed the first batch of newly trained recruits into the country's fledgling reconstructed army.

In Baghdad, dozens of rock-throwing former soldiers waiting for monthly stipends stormed a U.S. military base near the neighborhood of Mansour, clashing with U.S. troops and Iraqi police.

At least one Iraqi was killed and 25 were injured, doctors and witnesses said. U.S. soldiers fired warning shots and engaged in a firefight with armed Iraqi protesters, witnesses said.

In the southern city of Basra, British forces shot and killed one Iraqi after former soldiers rioted there also when news spread that they would be receiving their last payments, a British spokesman said.

Also yesterday, the U.S. military said a member of the Army's 4th Infantry Division was killed while on patrol Friday evening in Sadiyah, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, when his unit was hit with small-arms fire and a rocket-propelled grenade. The death brought to 88 the number of U.S. soldiers killed since President Bush declared major combat over May 1.

Meanwhile, in Kir Kush, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraq's new army passed a milestone with a graduation of nearly 700 members of the first battalion trained since the army of Saddam Hussein was disbanded by the U.S.-led coalition. The ceremony was attended by U.S. and Iraqi dignitaries, including L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator in Iraq, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. ground troops.

"This is a very important day in the history of Iraq, when they begin to build an army that will protect its people and not be used against it," Sanchez said.

But it was the former soldiers in Baghdad who presented the biggest problems. The riot erupted early yesterday when 30,000 people, including a small group of anti-American demonstrators, showed up for monthly pay from the occupation authorities at a former airfield.

"It turned a little ugly," said Army Capt. Reggie Harris. "They started throwing rocks and shooting AK-47s."

U.S. troops tried to disperse the crowd by firing warning shots, said Capt. Jim Hickman.

"All I saw was a mass of people coming down, bricks thrown, shots fired," Hickman said. "There were people in the crowd firing on American soldiers."

The soldiers pulled in the perimeter defense and then pushed out to move the crowd in two directions along a broad boulevard. At one end, demonstrators spilled out into the upscale Mansour area, where four liquor stores were burned. At the other, demonstrators massed beneath a highway overpass, near where a firefight flared between demonstrators and U.S. troops.

By midday, the ex-soldiers had reformed the lines for payment as helicopters hovered overhead. When dusk fell, thousands were still waiting for their cash, about $40 apiece.

Iraqi witnesses said the riot began because an old man was "pushed" by U.S. troops, a charge denied by Hickman.

"We only threw rocks," said Asherf Saleh, 21. "And then the American troops fired against us."

"I was surprised they started shooting everywhere, Iraqi policemen, American soldiers," said Zaid Mohammed, 21. "Before Americans came, they said they were here to help us. But why do you shoot?"

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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