40 retired Iraqi generals enlisted in northern city
April 25, 2003
By Mary Beth Sheridan
When 40 retired Iraqi generals showed up at an auditorium in a sugar factory this week to meet U.S. military officers, it was not to surrender but to enlist in a U.S.-led effort to rebuild northern Iraq's largest city.
"The citizens look to you, as they have for years. They will ask you what to think" about Iraq's transition, Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, said to the generals. "Your attitude, I believe, will be very, very important."
Wednesday's meeting was a sign of how dramatically the U.S. military's role has shifted since the end of the war's fighting phase. The Iraqi generals were representing about 1,000 retired and out-of-work officers who had overwhelmed U.S. authorities earlier in the week by responding to a summons for help with reconstruction.
Mosul is a traditional stronghold and source of recruits for the Iraqi military; it showed little of the euphoria that swept other areas at the fall of former president Saddam Hussein. Here, U.S. forces have been chased, spit on and fired at. At least 10 Iraqis have been killed by U.S. forces in the incidents.
"The war was easy compared to this," said Lt. Col. Robert M. Waltemeyer, commander of a Special Forces group that oversaw the city until Wednesday, when the 101st took over.
U.S. officials have appealed to former policemen to return to their jobs and tried to organize top civil servants, pledging to try to get them salaries and technical assistance. In the most striking attempt at co-optation, the Army has created a reconstruction group for Iraqi military officers who have laid down their arms.
Those are the carrots. Then there is the stick. Petraeus's division arrived Tuesday to replace a small Marine and Special Forces contingent. All day Wednesday, U.S. tanks moved through Mosul's streets, AH-64 Apache gunships zoomed overhead and soldiers paced the sidewalks, fingers on the triggers of their automatic rifles. Two companies of soldiers seized the governor's office, the symbol of local political power, which U.S. forces had abandoned last week after coming under repeated attack.
"The people of Mosul do not realize they have lost a war. They continue passive resistance," said Waltemeyer, 42, a Baltimore native. "Big Army's firepower and manpower will convince the population of U.S. resolve."
In fact, Mosul has remained one of the most violent cities in postwar Iraq. On Tuesday, U.S. troops patrolling Mosul were astonished to see a boy about 12 years old shooting at them with an AK-47 assault rifle. He missed. A day earlier, a few assailants armed with machine guns and rifles attacked the main U.S. military base at the Mosul airport, injuring a Marine.
Some of the hostility stems from Mosul's history. It is a strongly nationalist city that has traditionally supplied many of Iraq's military officers. But U.S. missteps also appear to have aggravated the tensions.
The city was seized by a handful of Special Forces officers who were working with militiamen from the Kurdish-controlled area north of here. The tiny U.S. force was unable to prevent the city from descending into a frenzy of looting, led by Kurds. That terrified the city's majority Arab population.
Then, last week, a riot erupted in front of the governor's office after Mashaan Jubouri, a man reviled for his past association with Hussein's government, declared himself the city's new ruler. In two days of mayhem, U.S. soldiers killed at least 10 and perhaps as many as 17 people, according to military and hospital officials.
Waltemeyer acknowledged that Jubouri was among the local tribal figures that the U.S. military relied upon to gain access to the city. But he denied backing him for political office.
"He went into that government building the day before we got there and set up a rump city council with a bunch of his cronies. He presented himself on the porch as being the man, and the rioting started," said Waltemeyer, who heads the 2nd Battalion of the 10th Group of Special Forces.
The city has calmed since last week, according to the U.S. Army and citizens interviewed on the streets. The U.S. military has ordered Kurdish forces to withdraw from Mosul. Many have left, though Kurdish militiamen in camouflage fatigues and maroon berets were seen guarding the university and zooming around the city in pickup trucks.
Meanwhile, U.S. military civil-affairs teams have helped restart electricity and water utilities, lessening the despair among local citizens about services that collapsed during the war. The teams are now trying to reopen schools and establish other services.
But, just as with the newly formed military association, the U.S. forces are running into the complexities of reestablishing order without becoming partners with unsavory figures. For example, one group withdrew from a U.S.-organized committee of experts who ran Mosul's schools, water system, utilities and other services. The group was suspicious that former Baath Party members were flocking to the American-led committee.
"There's a delicate balance between having experienced people back at work, but not having deep Baath Party people," said Maj. Jim Bullion, 46, a D.C. native who is executive officer of the Army's 404th Civil Affairs Battalion, which is based at the Mosul airport.
As he spoke, Mosul's former deputy governor strode from an office where he had been meeting with U.S. officials.
"We're still sorting that out, figuring where he came from, why he had that job," said Bullion when asked whether the Iraqi would get his old job back.
U.S. military officials say they have a "bad guy list" of people who will not be permitted to resume work as police officers or join the retired military association. And the U.S. military is keeping an eye on its new friends. The retired Iraqi generals attending Wednesday's meeting were photographed and registered in a U.S. Army computer.
Waltemeyer said he organized the military association to prevent the officers from becoming a destabilizing force. Mosul fell without a fight and many officers of Iraq's Fifth Corps simply melted back into the population. Waltemeyer wanted to give them temporary employment.
"I would rather have tabs on 1,000 out-of-work military officers, then have them be an alienated part of the population," said Waltemeyer, sitting on the stalled conveyor belt at the Mosul airport.
He put out the word about the new military association in typical Iraqi fashion, drinking countless cups of sweet tea with leaders of the tribes that play a vital role in this society. The 40 generals who represented the initial crowd of 1,000 were the cream of Iraq's former military, men who had led air force and army divisions and an army corps.
"We are commanders who served for 40 years in this military. We have a strong base through our past work. We are ready to bring thousands of military, if we just point to them," declared the group's leader, Maj. Gen. Ghanim Sultan Basso, 58, extending an index finger as if to summon the troops.
The meeting began with a speech by Petraeus. The Iraqi generals, some middle-aged, some gray-haired, wearing suits and ties, sat in brown wooden chairs, listening attentively. Petraeus, in a desert camouflage uniform, flattered the men, saying citizens would ask their advice on the transition.
"Should they cooperate with members of other factions? Should they be willing to compromise, or should they hold fast to every detail?" Petraeus asked rhetorically. "The only way to move forward is to go forward together. That will require compromise."
Unbeknownst to Petraeus, a torn phrase of Hussein's hung on the wall above his head. "We won't forgive those who compromise on Arab issues," it said.
The Iraqi generals did not appear to notice either.
"We are very happy to cooperate," Basso, a graying, distinguished-looking man in a well-cut blue suit, said in a speech responding to Petraeus. "We came here to meet you as friends, not as invaders."
The meeting was hardly all smiles. Basso quickly lit into the U.S forces, criticizing the lack of security in the city and the U.S. promises to repair war damage.
"Unfortunately we haven't seen that up to now," he said. He also urged U.S. troops to retrieve looted weapons and military vehicles that the Kurds took back to the area they control north of here. "The Kurdish elements must go outside the city," he warned.
But Basso ended on an upbeat note.
"We'll be happy to receive orders which serve this city," he said.
After the session, the Iraqi officers acknowledged it was odd meeting members of the military that had opposed them twice in 12 years. None of the generals acknowledged any role in the recent war. Several said they were in the military during the 1991 Persian Gulf War but did not participate in that conflict.
"It's strange" meeting the Americans, said a 67-year-old major general who declined to give his name. "But I tell you, everyone in this city is waiting to see what the Americans are going to do. Are they going to fulfill what they promised?"
Another officer, Maj. Gen. Idriss Mohammad Hassan, 68, said he, too, was waiting to see how the American offer of assistance worked out. "You are strangers," he said.
But he was willing to give the Americans the benefit of the doubt.
"Maybe your work will make us friends, maybe good friends," he said. "Let's see democracy in our country."