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U.S. to pay soldiers of former Iraqi army

Authorities will form new force of 12,000 within year

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — The American and British occupation authority said on Monday that it would create within three years a new Iraqi army of 40,000 soldiers, one-tenth the size of Saddam Hussein's armed forces at their peak.

A senior American official here, Walter Slocombe, said an initial force of 12,000 would be formed within a year. It would operate without an air force, he said, and would be responsible for guarding the country's borders and key installations.

The occupation powers also agreed on Monday to pay, for an indefinite period, the salaries of up to 250,000 idled Iraqi army officers. This follows weeks of angry demonstrations that culminated in the shooting death of two Iraqi officers during a rally last Wednesday.

The announcement appeared timed to avert another confrontation and to respond to the concerns of a number of Iraqi political figures as well as American officers. They have urged Paul Bremer III, the chief American administrator here, to address the officers demands so as not to drive them into resistance against the occupation forces.

The projected size of Iraq's first postwar military seemed to reflect the reality that a large contingent of U.S. and British troops will be positioned in Iraq for some time, as the guarantor of security in the region.

Slocombe said the new Iraqi military would theoretically be able to defend Iraq from invasion. Saddam had sized his military to match his ambition to defend the Arab world from Iran's revolution under the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and to dominate the Persian Gulf region.

At the height of his power, Saddam boasted an army of more than 20 divisions and 400,000 soldiers, 2,600 tanks and an air force of more than 300 fighters and bombers.

"This country was grotesquely overmilitarized," Slocombe said, adding that "most people in the old army will not be able to continue their military careers."

For a while, at least, they will still be paid, and at more than their former wages. As many as 250,000 former Iraqi servicemen will be eligible for monthly stipends of between $50 and $150. In return, they will be required to sign statements renouncing the Baath Party.

The fact that the top American administrator felt compelled to reverse his earlier stance and offer the payments underscores how seriously the occupying powers are taking the security risk posed by the presence of hundreds of thousands of disgruntled and unpaid military men.

American military commanders rushed riot control gear this weekend to their troops guarding the Republican Palace, where Bremer and a large contingent of American and British staff are quartered. The gates to the palace, now more heavily defended than during Saddam's time, have become the primary venue for Iraqis to vent their grievances.

The standoff with the army officers has coincided with the rise of small-scale military attacks against American forces in central Iraq. While U.S. officials have not accused former officers of organizing the attacks, the appearance of armed resistance raised concerns that some army officers might resort to violence if their demands were not met.

Next month, Bremer is expected to announce the formation of the first postwar political authority in Iraq, the "political council," which will serve as an advisory body under occupation. He also has called for a constitutional convention to name a commission to write the founding document for a new state. Iraqi political figures, however, have expressed deep reservations about Bremer's insistence on putting off elections in Iraq and his opposition to turning over sovereignty to a provisional assembly or government.

Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense in the Clinton administration, who is overseeing the dissolution of Saddam's armed forces, said that applications for a new Iraqi army would be accepted starting next week with a goal of fielding the first "light infantry" division of 12,000 soldiers in a year's time.

Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who until last week was the commandant of the U.S. Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., will supervise the training program that will actually be conducted by defense contractors, Slocombe said.

Slocombe declined to comment on how the Kurdish militia forces, which comprise as many as 70,000 pesh merga fighters, would be treated as the new army is created. He said the Kurdish militias were a "separate" question, but did not elaborate.

Last month, the top American military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, exempted the Kurdish militias from his order that all Iraqis should turn in their heavy weapons. The two main Kurdish factions, the Kurdish Democratic Party under Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan under Jalal Talabani, command sizable paramilitary forces armed with tanks, artillery and heavy machine guns.

McKiernan said that Kurdish forces would be exempted for now from any disarmament order because were cooperating closely with American and British forces. But Kurdish officials have said their expectation is that their forces will eventually be integrated into a new Iraqi army. The schedule for such integration appears still to be an open question.

Slocombe said the first payments to former Iraqi soldiers will be made on July 14 and will approximate those being made to civil servants. Army conscripts will get a one-time severance payment.

Before the military campaign of March and April, thousands of Iraqi officers took seriously the millions of leaflets that allied aircraft dropped on Iraq. The fliers advised them not to fight for Saddam and send their troops home.

"I was with the 11th Infantry Division at Nasiriyah, and we did what Bush told us to do," said Lt. Hassan Issa, 23.

"We told all the soldiers to go home and we could have been executed if we had been found out," he added.

Now, married with his first child after a difficult Caesarean section, Issa said last month that he had only the equivalent of $50 to his name.

"We feel betrayed," he said on that hot afternoon in front of Bremer's gate.

Now, if he applies to the occupation powers for a stipend and forswears the Baath, he will be paid. The future Iraqi government will have to decide for how long.