Coalition authorities in Iraq began recruitment for a new national army Saturday, taking applications from hundreds of Iraqis from around the country. Many former soldiers from the old army are volunteering, some to serve their country, some simply to find a job.
Coalition forces have opened recruitment centers in the main Iraqi urban centers of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. A fourth center is planned for the mainly Kurdish city of Arbil.
At least 300 potential recruits signed up Saturday at the Baghdad center, while military sources report hundreds more filling out applications elsewhere.
Coalition sources organizing the recruitment say they want a new, multi-ethnic Iraqi army that will serve Iraq objectively as a whole nation.
It will be composed entirely of men between the ages of 18 and 40. While former ordinary Iraqi soldiers are welcome, veterans of Saddam Hussein's elite Special Republican Guard will be excluded.
Former intelligence and security officers and high-ranking members of the ousted Baath Party will also be barred from serving.
Military sources say they hope to raise some 30 battalions, representing about 40,000 ground troops over the next two years.
They say the formation of further units will be up to Iraq's future government.
Taseen Salman al-Nimei, who served as an officer in Saddam Hussein's army, says he is joining in part out of patriotism.
Mr. al-Nimei says, after U.S. and British troops leave, Iraq will need people like him and his comrades to protect the country.
But he adds that his main motive for joining is economic. "You know, I have a family and children. I want to feed them. I have no job now," he explains. "Because of that, I came here to gain a job, a new job in my work, because I am an officer, and I don't know how to work another thing."
With coalition forces already stretched near the limit, training for the new army has been contracted out to the U.S.-based Vinnell Corporation, with former U.S. military personnel making up most of the instructors.