Iraqi Soldiers Flee Duty

USA Today reports that about 300 Iraqi troops abandoned their unit last monthin Iraq:

About 300 Iraqi soldiers abandoned their 750-man unit after being deployed to Samarra last month for a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation to retake the militant-controlled city, according to a British coalition official.

British Army Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster, deputy commander of the coalition office for training and organizing Iraq's armed forces, said the deserters were spooked by an attack on Sept. 19 about a week after they had been deployed. A car bombing killed a battalion officer and injured eight soldiers. About 100 deserted afterwards. By Sept. 24, even before the offensive kicked off in Samarra, 300 had left.

"It sounds bad, but what we were left with was the toughest soldiers," Aylwin-Foster said. "Those who left the fight will get punished."

The desertions are prompting coalition officers to improve training for Iraqi recruits, officials said.

Iraqi forces are needed to help retake and hold insurgent strongholds, including Fallujah, where as many as 1,000 militants are believed to be entrenched. Releasing the militants' grip on these areas will be important to elections, scheduled for January, and handing security over to Iraqi forces.

The Oct. 1-2 offensive that retook Samarra was the first major test of newly trained and equipped Iraqi security forces since April, when several battalions of troops refused to fight in Fallujah and Baghdad's Sadr City after revolts.

Since then, the U.S.-led military coalition has upgraded training and provided more equipment and weapons to their Iraqi counterparts.

Now, in the idea of fairness, we have to end the story properly. It didn't turn out quite so bad.

Coalition officials, including Aylwin-Foster, point out that the remaining 450 soldiers in the Iraqi Army's 7th Battalion performed bravely during the two-day battle in Samarra. The operation, which involved 2,000 Iraqi forces and 3,000 U.S. soldiers, succeeded in taking back the city about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Iraqi national security adviser Kassim Daoud said Tuesday he was not aware of the incident involving the 7th Battalion.

Iraq's security forces have been targeted by insurgents in an effort to affect troop strength and morale. On Tuesday, a mortar attack killed four Iraqi guardsmen and injured 80 north of Baghdad.

U.S. military officers say the operation in Samarra was still a success. U.S. and Iraqi troops killed more than 100 insurgents and drove several hundred more from the city.

"They performed very well," said Maj. Neal O'Brien, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division based in Tikrit.

Aylwin-Foster said it is difficult to know how a unit will perform in combat until the first bullets fly. The 7th Battalion soldiers who stayed behind to fight are sound soldiers.

But this also goes to prove that just expecting these guys to get out and protect themselves isn't enough. Not everyone is meant to be a police officer and we're expecting about half of Iraq to do so. Let's hope things are going better.
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