Surrendering Iraqi soldiers warn of Syrian, Lebanon mercenaries

By AAMER MADHANI | CHICAGO TRIBUNE Published: April 3, 2003

AS SAMAWAH, Iraq — During a brief lull in shelling by U.S. forces Wednesday afternoon, Iraqi soldiers, alone and in groups of two and three, came to surrender.

"I heard from the speakers to come and surrender," said a young Al Kutz soldier, referring to the message to put down arms and give up the fight that psychological operations officers boomed into As Samawah on Wednesday. "The rest will all come one by one but they are all still scared."

Marching down a main highway raising white handkerchiefs over their heads, the surrendering Iraqis made their intentions known to the U.S. troops who kept their rifles trained on them just in case it was a ruse.

"This guy knows exactly what he is doing," said Sgt. 1st Class Francis DeBois, 38, of Dover, Del., as he watched the first man to capitulate lay down with his face in the sand before a paratrooper could approach and give him an order.

Some offered information to the officers on what awaits them as the U.S. troops close in on As Samawah. One Iraqi soldier told the U.S. interrogators that he knew a place near Baghdad where some weapons were buried under farmland.

Another pointed out a weapons cache in As Samawah that he said paramilitary troops are using.

All eight soldiers who surrendered said that most Iraqi and paramilitary troops had been fleeing the city as U.S. troops have engaged them in battle over the last few days.

Four of the eight also said that dozens of Syrian mercenaries had been coming to As Samawah in recent days. A deserting warrant officer also told 82nd Airborne Division officials that 100 Lebanese and Syrians were gathering in As Samawah and planning suicide operations against Americans.

"We did hear a lot of these guys mention Syrian soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Ron Camilimlim, a psychological operations officer who interviewed the surrendering soldiers. "But as of now, we can't confirm anything about whether there are Syrians in As Samawah."

The surrenders came as the 82nd Airborne appears to be quickly closing in on this city, which U.S. forces said is full of paramilitary forces who they believe want a fight.

On Wednesday morning, paratroopers from the 2nd Battalion's Charlie Company seized a water treatment plant near downtown with ease.

Later in the day, two missiles were fired at a soccer stadium that was thought to be an assembly area for paramilitary troops and their supporters. Division officials reported six paramilitary soldiers were killed, 20 were wounded and several support vehicles were destroyed.

In the living room of a home that coalition forces has commandeered to conduct surveillance of the nearby center city, the enemy prisoners were given cigarettes and water as they told members of the 82nd Airborne why they were so eager to give up.

One Iraqi soldier told his interrogators that Baath Party officials killed his brother after falsely accusing him of giving information to allied forces.

Another young soldier said simply that the fight wasn't one he wanted.

"I don't want to fight," said an Iraqi soldier, who added that he tried to desert from the army before. "I am scared to fight."


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