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AL KISIK, Iraq — The Saddam-era ammunition dump tucked into the hills northeast of Tal Afar had long been suspected of supplying insurgents with explosives for roadside bombs.

Despite repeated assurances from the Iraqi army that the Badush ammo magazine had been secured, area insurgents seemed to have a never-ending supply of devastating artillery shells and other military ordnance. The matter had become a sore point with U.S. military commanders in northwest Iraq, and had seriously undermined their confidence in the Iraqi troops.

So it was with a sense of relief that they learned from eight Iraqi soldiers — most of them jundees or privates — that the Iraqis’ company commander, a major, and their executive officer, a captain, were helping insurgents loot ordnance from the site.

Since coming forward in early March, the soldiers have been hailed as heroes and examples of a maturing Iraqi army.

“It’s an incredible story,” said Maj. John Stark, the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division’s liaison officer to the Iraqi army — in this case, the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Iraqi Army Division.

“What makes it great is that it wasn’t just one guy who came forward, it was eight, and they did it when they were scared,” he said. “They had never done something like that before.”

The soldiers, who belonged to an intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance company, were observing the depot on the evening of March 6 with night vision equipment when they noticed two civilian cars at the site. They went to investigate.

“We went down to question them and they confessed,” said one of the soldiers, who, like the others, agreed to talk on the condition that they were not photographed or identified by name.

“They told us, ‘We have bombs in our car. Don’t worry though, we are only going to use them on Americans.’”

The soldiers also noticed a battery and explosive timers in the vehicle. They tied the men up, confiscated a cell phone and called for their commanding officer. When the officer arrived, he told the soldiers to move away from the vehicle, because it might explode.

From a distance, the soldiers watched the commander talk to the men in the vehicles and pick something up from one of the cars. To the soldiers’ surprise, the men were allowed to leave. They were even more shocked when their commander told them that he had searched the vehicles and found nothing.

Anxious and unsure about what to do, the soldiers told their story to a U.S. liaison officer and some U.S. Special Forces soldiers. They also buried the cell phone they had confiscated, because it was the only piece of evidence that they had and they feared the officers would take it from them.

Among the soldiers who helped report the officers was a young lieutenant, who at first could not believe the commander and the executive officer would participate in such an act. When the officers were questioned, they were found to be lying and jailed. Ordnance disposal teams were sent to the dump to sort through the remaining explosives.

“We joined the Iraqi army for the sake of protecting this land and our country’s security,” one soldier said. “We are happy to get rid of these guys. The insurgency is going to destroy our country.”

The soldiers have been presented awards for their actions and recognized for their bravery in reporting senior officers of wrongdoing.

“Because we are in the Iraqi army we are targets,” one soldier said. “We are afraid for our children and our families, but we are not afraid for ourselves. Iraqis have fought in many wars, and we are very brave.”

Col. Khalid Al Murad, the division’s intelligence officer, agreed.

“We, as officers, we felt very, very sorry,” the colonel said of the two arrested officers. “They are our partners and we did not expect these kind of things from them, so we are surprised. The jundees appear much more brave than the officers.”

The soldiers say they are puzzled as to why the officers worked with the insurgents. While initial reports held that the officers were paid off, this now does not appear to be the case. The soldiers suspect that the officers were simply fearful that the insurgents would harm them or their families if they did not cooperate.

“It looks like the major knew the insurgents and he got scared,” Murad said. “The other guy, the captain, had only been in the unit a week.

“I am very proud of the soldiers who told us what happened. It’s hard to find faithful men and I’m really proud of them.”

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