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Spec. Darrell Houzah caught an Iraqi who tried to steal an M-16 rifle from Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq.
Spec. Darrell Houzah caught an Iraqi who tried to steal an M-16 rifle from Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

BAGHDAD — Spc. Darrell Houzah was shocked last week to see an Iraqi worker walking toward him carrying an M-16.

The 13th Corps Support Command soldier, assigned to the 4th Corps Materiel Management Company, approached the man and asked him why he had a U.S. military weapon.

“He said, ‘I don’t understand,’” Houzah said. “I asked him to hand over the weapon, and he gave it to me. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to think about the danger.”

After getting the weapon — which belonged to a 512th Maintenance Battalion soldier — Houzah called the military police.

The Iraqi worker was taken away for questioning. Eventually, the man was permanently barred from the base: the most severe punishment the Army can hand down to local nationals.

The Army has barred dozens of Iraqi workers from its bases in Iraq for stealing or committing other crimes while on post.

“The whole concept of stealing is contrary to building a nation,” said Lt. Col. Dan Williams, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-7 headquarters. “We wouldn’t tolerate that [criminal behavior] in our soldiers or civilian DOD employees...”

Unlike soldiers and Defense Department employees who work on bases, Iraqis are not subject to U.S. law or military justice. The only punishment the Army can hand out is barring the offenders from bases, Williams said.

While most Iraqi base workers are honest, some people will take anything, big or small, said Lt. Col. Tim Hill, provost marshal at Logistics Support Area Anaconda.

“They are honest, but I will say they are opportunistic,” he said. “If you leave it out there, they will grab it. ...”

Another Iraqi base employee stole an 18-wheel refrigerated truck from a base contractor last week, Houzah said. The vehicle was recovered by the contractor off base, but the Iraqi man had disappeared.

There are 850 Iraqi employees working at LSA Anaconda, between 1,000 and 1,500 other Iraqis who go on post each day for various reasons, and about 1,000 third-country nationals working for contractors there.

About 40 Iraqis have been barred from the base in the last nine months, Hill said.

Hill said the decision to bar a local national is based on trust.

“If they have a scuffle because they are being entrepreneurial, I only bar them for 30 days,” he said. “If they try to come in within those 30 days, it is a trust issue and they are barred permanently.”

Hill said the only things Iraqis are allowed to take off base are things given to them by soldiers, although soldiers are discouraged from giving Iraqi employees too much. The Army worries that the workers may become too dependent on the base, he said.

“We came up with a policy of what they can and can’t give. They can give them a bottle of water, and if they are eating an MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat), they can give them the uneaten portion of it.”

All in all, the Iraqis aren’t committing many crimes, Hill said.

“I have not had many problems with them,” he said.

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