The U.S.-led coalition will reconsider the pay scale for members of the new Iraqi army after about half of the recruits deserted, the U.S. general in charge of Iraqi military operations said Saturday.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, speaking at a news conference, said the major reason for the defections was pay, specifically allowances for married soldiers who were struggling to support their families on $60 a month.
“We’re working to review the pay scales and I think we’ll have a decision in the coming weeks,” Sanchez said.
But he said the setbacks shouldn’t harm the overall goal of training 40,000 members of light infantry battalions by next October. That contradicts reports that the U.S. military had scaled back that goal.
“I believe our targets in training for the new Iraqi army are still valid,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also said a separate, 550-member force drawn from militias affiliated with Iraqi political parties, was being trained to fight insurgents in Baghdad.
The unit, he said, was part of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and would work under the command of the 1st Armored Division, the U.S. military unit in charge of the Iraqi capital.
Nearly 10,000 people detained in Iraq
Sanchez, who had previously given the number of detainees under coalition control in Iraq as about 5,000, conceded that the number is now “almost to 10,000.”
Among those are 3,800 members of the Iranian militant group Mujahedeen Khalq, who are restricted to their camp northeast of Baghdad and are “separated” from their weapons, Sanchez said. The Mujahedeen have been fighting Iran’s religious government from bases in Iraq and the coalition considers them a terrorist organization.
Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said that Americans have met with them to learn from Israeli tactics in their fight against Palestinian militants — something Sanchez did not dispute.
Asked whether U.S. troops were using Israeli tactics including targeted killings and collective punishment, Sanchez said only: “It’s a different time, a different place and a different country.”
“We can be a ferocious army, but we can also be a benevolent army, and we are not going to change,” he added.
Sanchez said he had no idea how long it would take to catch Saddam Hussein, but said there should be no doubt that despite frequent attacks against coalition forces the U.S.-led occupation forces will defeat the insurgents.
“There is no question in my mind that the coalition and the Iraqi people are winning,” he said.
Iraqi council members tour Europe
Meanwhile, the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, and at least two other members of the council left Friday for Spain at the start of a European tour that will include France, Germany and Britain, according to a coalition official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Paris, the French Foreign Ministry said the Iraqi delegation was to attend a meeting organized by MEDEF, France’s main employer’s organization.
French executives hope to press their business interests in Iraq despite a U.S. ban on reconstruction contracts for nations that opposed the war.
French President Jacques Chirac was a top critic of the war.
The ministry said the Iraqi delegation will also hold talks with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to discuss “the prospects for change in the country,” after the U.S.-led administration hands sovereignty to a transitional government next July.