Forty per cent of Iraqi soldiers deployed to Samarra after the recent US offensive in that city have deserted.
At least 300 Iraqi soldiers abandoned their 750-man unit after they were deployed to Samarra earlier this month as part of a U.S.-Iraqi operation to retake the militant-controlled city. Like similar incidents earlier this year in Fallujah and Baghdad’s Sadr City, the desertions are prompting coalition officers to improve training for Iraqi recruits.
[British Army Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster] said the deserters were spooked by an attack on Sept. 19, about a week after they had been deployed from Baghdad. A car bombing at a checkpoint killed one of the battalion’s officers and injured eight soldiers, Aylwin-Foster said. About 100 deserted afterward.
By Sept. 24, even before the offensive kicked off in Samarra, 300 had left. Senior Iraqi officers were sent there in an effort to rally the battalion’s remaining soldiers. Iraq’s new security forces have been regularly targeted by insurgents in an effort to affect troop strength and morale. Yesterday, a mortar attack killed at least four Iraqi national guardsmen and injured 80 at a base north of Baghdad.
U.S. military officers say the operation in Samarra was a success despite the AWOL problems. The U.S. and Iraqi troops that retook the city in two days 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.