US troops in Iraq want out
For US troops from 9th Cavalry Regiment bumping around the dangerous streets of Baghdad in Humvees after dark on Monday, news that their deployment in Iraq could be extended fell like a hammer blow.
Their commanders had cautioned that their second one-year tour due to end in October could be prolonged while US President George W. Bush later warned troops it was too soon to "pack up and go home."
The expletives during the four-hour night patrol turned the air in the Humvee, already thick with cigarette smoke, a dark shade of blue.
"We just want to get out of here as soon as possible," said one vehicle commander in one of his few printable comments.
"It's because the Iraqi army is so scared that we have to come here to die," he added, asking not to be named.
"Ninety-five percent of Iraqis are good but five percent are bad. But the 95 percent are too weak to stand up to the five percent."
"Bush should send all the Death Row prisoners here and they can be killed fighting the terrorists. We've had enough," said another soldier, as the Humvee accelerated past a roadside car in case it exploded.
Added yet another, "Bush can come fight here. He can take my 1,000 dollars a month and I'll go home."
Commander of the night operation, Lieutenant Brian Long, said the anger was understandable.
"One of the men has five children, another has three. Another has a boy aged four -- he's missed two of those years. He'll never get them back," said Long.
"It is like the movie 'Groundhog Day'. Each day is the same and nothing ever changes," he added, referring to the 1993 movie in which the principal character is doomed to repeat the same day endlessly.
"It's tough. Everyone just wants to get home to their families," said the officer.
Bush, after speaking to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the top US military commander in Iraq, said in Washington that his new plan to pacify war-wracked Iraq would take months.
"It could be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home," Bush said, four years to the day after he announced that American troops were fighting to depose Saddam Hussein.
"That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating," Bush said, warning that a US departure would spark chaos in Iraq which would engulf the region.
Platoon commander of the 9th Cavalry Regiment, Captain Christopher Dawson, said he understood the need for troops to stay in Iraq.
"We are starting to make a difference," he said. "The violence is dropping. We are training Iraqis to take over responsibility for their own security. We are helping them see their future ahead of them. It is in their hands."
But the lower ranks were in rebellious mood, especially after publication of a poll on Monday, commissioned by the BBC, ABC News, ARD German TV and USA Today, which showed only 18 percent of those questioned had confidence in US and coalition troops, while 78 percent opposed their presence.
"If no one wants us here we are quite ready to get out tomorrow," said the outspoken vehicle commander.
One of the few Iraqis the troops met during their night patrol -- most stay indoors once the 8pm curfew kicks in -- said he feared the day the US forces pulled out.
"They can stay for 100 years if they want," said Salam Ahmed, a security guard at a shoe warehouse on the outskirts of the city. "If they go, the bad guys will certainly come for me."
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