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Report from Iraq: More Iraqi Troops Would Surrender if They Could, says Iraqi Defector - 2003-03-31

Defectors from the Iraqi army are telling coalition forces that many more Iraqi troops would surrender if they could.

Fallah, 42, was a sergeant in the Iraqi regular army until he surrendered to U.S. forces Sunday near the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

Wearing a loose civilian robe and eating military rations given to him by American troops, Fallah appears gaunt and weary. He says he had not eaten in days.

He says that weeks before the start of the war, Saddam dispatched trusted members of his paramilitary force, the Fedayeen, to towns in central and southern Iraq to quell civilian dissent and to intimidate regular Iraqi army troops in the field. Fallah says the Fedayeen threatened to execute his family if he refused to fight the Americans.

Many Iraqi regular army defections and desertions have been reported since the war began 12 days ago. Coalition officials say they now hold as many as 8,000 prisoners of war, many of whom have surrendered. But Fallah says he believes many more Iraqis would surrender if it were not for Fedayeen threats and strong-arm tactics.

Fallah describes life in the Iraqi army as extremely difficult. He has received very little food and money for years of back-breaking manual labor in quarries and mines.

In an attempt to boost morale, the government in Baghdad recently raised the troops' salary from $3-12 a month. But Fallah says everyone remained constantly under the watchful eyes of the Fedayeen.

Even though he risked the death of his six children by deserting, Fallah did so in the hope that coalition forces would quickly defeat Saddam Hussein and give his family a chance for a better life.

Fallah predicts once Saddam is gone, the people will rise up and retaliate against the Fedayeen. He says he believes the Fedayeen fighters know that and that explains why they are fighting so hard not to lose this war.