They (Iraqi soldiers) complain bitterly that their American mentors don't respect them.
In fact, the Americans don't: Frustrated U.S. soldiers question the Iraqis' courage, discipline and dedication and wonder whether they will ever be able to fight on their own, much less reach the U.S. military's goal of operating independently by the fall."I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said 1st Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., the executive officer of McGovern's company, who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."
The men (Iraqi soldiers) spoke of the insurgents with a hint of awe, saying the fighters were willing to die and outgunned them with rocket-propelled grenades and, more fearsome, car bombs. Zwayid, a father of three, looked in disgust at his own AK-47 assault rifle, with a green shoelace for a strap.
"We fire 10 bullets and it falls apart," he said. Zwayid patted a heavy machine gun mounted in the bed of the Humvee. "This jams," he said. "Are these the weapons worthy of a soldier?" He and others said it was a sign of the Americans' lack of confidence in them.
"We trust the Americans. We go everywhere with them, we do what they ask," he said. "But they don't trust us."
The battalion dispatched McGovern's platoon, about 35 soldiers, to work exclusively with the Iraqis. But the effort was immediately beset by problems. Due to a mixup in paperwork, dozens of Iraqi soldiers went without pay for three months. Many lacked proper uniforms, body armor and weapons. To meet the shortfall, U.S. forces gave the Iraqis rifles and ammunition confiscated during raids in Baiji. Of six interpreters assigned to the company, two quit and two others said they were preparing to.
Almost to a man, the soldiers said they joined for the money -- a relatively munificent $300 to $400 a month. The military and police forces offered some of the few job opportunities in town. Even then, the soldiers were irate: They wanted more time off, air-conditioned quarters like their American counterparts and, most important, respect. Most frustrating, they said, was the two- or three-hour wait to be searched at the base's gate when they returned from leave.
The soldiers said 17 colleagues had quit in the past few days.
"In 15 days, we're all going to leave," Nawaf declared.
The two-dozen soldiers gathered nodded their heads.
Shortly after the ambush, a sniper shot a U.S. soldier standing on the roof of a police station, inflicting a severe head wound. The Americans suspected that the fire had come from the nearby Rahma mosque. American and Iraqi troops surrounded the building. Fearful of inflaming resentment, U.S. soldiers ordered their Iraqi counterparts to search the mosque. They initially refused, entering only after McGovern berated them. "But I don't know if they searched it that well. They were still tip-toeing when they were in there," said Sgt. Cary Conner, 25, of Newport News, Va., who was among the first soldiers on the scene. U.S. forces then ordered the Iraqis to arrest everyone inside the mosque, including the respected elderly prayer leader. The Iraqi platoon leader refused, U.S. soldiers recalled. The platoon leader and his men then sat down next to the mosque in protest. "We wanted to tell the Americans they couldn't do this again," Dhanoun said.
- "We can't tell these guys about a lot of this stuff, because we're not really sure who's good and who isn't," said Rick McGovern, a tough-talking 37-year-old platoon sergeant from Hershey, Pa., who heads the military training for Charlie Company.
- "Honestly, I don't think people in America understand how touchy the situation really is right now," McGovern said. "We have the military power, the military might, but we're handling everything with kid gloves because we're hoping the Iraqis are going to step up and start taking things on themselves. But they don't have a clue how to do it."
- "We like to refer to the Iraqi army as preschoolers with guns," he said.
- "As Arab men, they want for us to think that they're just the same as us as soldiers, that they're just as brave," Cato said. "But they show cowardice. They'll say to me, 'I wasn't afraid.' But if you're running, then you were obviously not just afraid, you were running away."