Asharq Al-Awsat- Two months have elapsed since the Iraqi government announced the sending of committees to a number of Arab capitals to meet with former Iraqi army officers, who fled following the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The committees in Amman, Sanaa and Damascus, said that hundreds of army officers have applied to return, in response to an Iraqi government invitation, in preparation for a decision on the former Iraqi army.
The military attaché in the Iraqi embassy in Amman said that the military committee has completed interviews with former Iraqi officers, listened to their demands and their will to return to serve in the ranks of the [new] Iraqi army.
The military attaché, who has the rank of Brigadier General, but requested anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the committee met with 90 officers of various ranks, who filled in applications delivered to the committee on their personal situation and details of their former military service, with a view to submitting the applications to the Iraqi Army military command in Baghdad. The military attaché said the role of the committee was confined merely to interviewing the officers and that the committee did not make any decisions regarding those interviews, pointing out that they will be informed of the results individually through the military attaché.
The military attaché said that “the list includes all those who wanted to return to the armed forces, and that this applies to officers with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and below, provided they were not subject to the law of ‘justice and accountability’ or (uprooting Baath). Officers with higher ranks who wish to return will have to retire, but if they return to Iraq they would be recruited in the civil service with a grade equivalent to their military rank, provided they were not subject to the law of ‘justice and accountability”.
The military attaché confirmed that all committee members were Iraqi and denied that there were any Americans among them.
The military attaché said: “The committee will look into the needs of the armed forces for those officers, as the [present] army is small compared to the former. The former army consisted of 40 battalions, while the present army consists of 14, and most of the higher ranks would not be needed.”
The Iraqi ministry of defense has previously announced that it will accept applications from former officers from 14 February to 14 March2009, in Amman and other Arab capitals.
Major General Ghazi Khadr, a member of the association of former Iraqi officers which is still being formed in Jordan, told Asharq Al-Awsat that there are 10,000 Iraqi officers in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and the UAE; 5,000 of them in Jordan alone and they all need to have their status determined. Moreover, there are 2,129 disabled officers from the Iran-Iraq war; and 300 officers were killed by the militias after the US invasion.
According to estimates by the Norwegian organization Fafo, there are about half a million Iraqis in Jordan. The Jordanian ministry of the interior is offering Iraqis, wishing to return to Iraq, facilities and exemptions from payment of fines they incurred during their stay in Jordan, but despite this only about 2,000 responded.
The information official in the Iraqi embassy in Damascus, Ahmad Sa’d told Asharq Al-Awsat that the embassy has so far received about 700 applications from former Iraqi officers wishing to return to Iraq and serve in the Iraqi armed forces. He said that this number includes officers of all ranks. The Iraqi government has decided that officers from the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and below would be returned to the armed forces, but that higher ranks “will have to be dealt with by the government.” This was the situation as far as former army officers are concerned.
As for former members of the Iraqi security apparatus, the information official in the Iraqi embassy in Damascus said that the Iraqi government is still “considering the issue of their return and incorporating them into the Iraqi security forces.”
Asked whether there were Baath Party members among the applicants, the information official Ahmad Sa’d said: “The Iraqi government has launched a national reconciliation project that includes the return of officers, and the government is considering the acceptance of applications of all Iraqis from all shades of the Iraqi political spectrum, including the opposition. As for the wrong doers, Iraqi justice will take care of them.”
It may be worth noting that Syria has the largest number of Iraqi refugees who left Iraq as a result of the US invasion, while others went to Jordan, Egypt, Yemen and the UAE.
Informed sources in the Yemeni capital Sanaa said that there are hundreds of former Iraqi personnel In Yemen, adding that 72% of them have agreed to return to Iraq; while the remainder is still refusing to return. The Yemeni sources added that “the first batch of the military will return to Baghdad from Sanaa on the 25 March 2009. The source said that the Iraqi military personnel are working as trainers and experts in various sections of the Yemeni army.”
The Yemeni source added that Iraqi officers of various ranks wishing to return have been interviewed and that the Iraqi government will reimburse all their expenses from the moment they left Iraq until their return to their country.