07 January 2006

Iraqi Troops Celebrate Army Day

Iraqi troops recently celebrated the 85th anniversary of the creation of Iraq's military forces. While the celebration was smaller in size, it packed more firepower. The Lebanese Daily Star reports:
Iraq's fledgling military marked Army Day Friday to the sound of mortar and rocket fire, highlighting the tough battle the troops face to bring security to the country.Waving Iraqi flags, some 800 soldiers from the army's 10 divisions paraded in front of senior Iraqi government and U.S. officials as marching music played inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

But the annual ceremony, marking the 85th anniversary of the military's creation, was a fraction of its previous size under Saddam Hussein.

The toppled dictator used to sit with a rifle on his lap, firing off rounds, as thousands of troops, tanks, helicopters and fighter jets took part in a three to four hour-long parade.

This time around, there were only two old Russian tanks on display as well as some U.S.-made Humvees and military trucks, while Iraq's current president and prime minister both chose to stay away.

Saddam's theatrical gunshots were replaced by real mortar fire.

One mortar round, fired by rebels, even struck about a 100 meters away but did not explode, said an AFP correspondent at the scene.

Abdel-Aziz Mohammad, official spokesman for the joint operations room at the Defense Ministry, had been talking to reporters at the time and ducked as the round flew past. "It was nothing, it was nothing," he said afterwards.

At the start of the ceremony, Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad laid flowers at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier - a giant shield-shaped stone slab erected in the center of a vast circle.

It was built under Saddam to commemorate soldiers who died in the Iran-Iraq war.

The Iraqi national anthem struck up as everyone stood to attention.

The soldiers then marched grim-faced for about five minutes. Then Dulaimi and General Babkir Bederkhan al-Zibari, the army's chief of staff gave rallying speeches.

"Today's festival has a special meaning and it is not like the previous ones," said Dulaimi.

"Today we serve the nation and not the [then] victorious leader," he said, in a reference to Saddam.

Standing to attention, with unloaded guns at their side, the soldiers then repeated an oath of allegiance.

"I swear in the name of God and on my honor to protect the land of Iraq and its people from all aggression," they chanted.

The country's security forces, including the army and the police, are now some 210,000-strong.
Open Post Thanks to The Right Wing Nation and Stop the ACLU.

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