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Defection in the Iraqi Army on the Rise

As the days for a possible military action in Iraq get closer, an increasing number of members of President Saddam Hussein's military are deserting their ranks. Many have run away to Kurdish controlled areas in the north, where they have been screened by Kurdish officials and are now living in refugee camps.

Melinda Smith reports about some of these deserters.

In a refugee camp in northern Iraq, Raad Kazem, a private from the Iraqi military who recently defected, called on the removal of President Saddam Hussein

“Freedom and toppling the regime are the aims of the entire Iraqi people."

Another deserter who prefers to remain anonymous, says the morale among military personnel is low

"It’s really bad, militarily the morale is a mess and also in terms of equipment."

During the Persian Gulf War, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers surrendered to U.S. troops. It is expected others will do so if and when a new war breaks out. Recently, one of Saddam Hussein's republican guards defected in Sulaimaniya, capital of the Kurdish controlled area in the north. The man, of Kurdish descent, says he is not the only one among the Iraqi troops who seeks defection.

"Many of them said they would like to defect if there was a chance to do it before the U.S. attack. But when the war begins, they would have to fight, fearing the execution units."

The deserter said when the Iraqi intelligence discovered he was of Kurd descent, he was banned from visiting secret sites. He was also arrested when he had taken a photograph of a friend.

Civilians are concerned about what actions the Iraqi leader might take against them. Hundreds of Kurds living in Kirkuk and area controlled by the Iraqi government, have left their homes towards Kurdish areas.

The area was created in 1991 after Saddam Hussein's brutal crackdown on Kurdish separatists after the gulf war. Ever since then, that region has been independent and is being protected by the United States and Britain.