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First Class of Iraqi Military Trainees Graduate - 2004-03-18

The first class of Iraqi military trainees graduated Thursday from a two-and-a-half-month course for platoon and company commanders in Jordan.

With diplomas in hand, the 548 graduates burst into applause and patriotic Iraqi chants that rocked the wood-paneled auditorium at a Jordanian military facility on the outskirts of Amman.

Earlier, during the ceremony, one of the graduates recited a patriotic poem he had written for the occasion.

These are the first Iraqi troops to complete a training course run by Australian, Spanish, British and American officers along with Jordanian military trainers.

Jordanian Brigadier General Ahmed Farajat says the aim of the program is to train a new army for a new Iraq.

"We struggled hard from the beginning to achieve the following principle objectives," said General Farajat. "First, develop an advanced training schedule for officers to ensure the necessary leadership to establish the new Iraqi army. Second, form a professional volunteer army nucleus to defend the Iraqi nation and achieve security and stability there."

Iraqi Governing Council member Samir el Sumaidy attended the ceremony, and handed out some of the diplomas. To underscore the new principles of the interim constitution approved earlier this month, Mr. Sumaidy's remarks in Arabic were translated into Kurdish - now Iraq's second official language.

Mr. Sumaidy congratulated the graduates, and wished them well.

Coalition and Iraqi officials are concerned about terrorist actions aimed at stirring up civil strife between Iraq's Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'ite communities.

Graduates say the ethnic and religious mix was not a problem in their class. One of the students was 28-year-old army surgeon Mohamed Sharin - a Sunni from the northern city of Mosul.

"There were different ethnicities in the class," he said. "Also, when I sleep, on my [one] side is Shia and my [other] side is Kurd. Actually, here, we make a strong friendship between us and them."

Mr. Sharin spent 10 years in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein's rule. He says he welcomes the changes now under way.

"The new Iraqi army represents the country and [does] not represent a corrupted system like previously," he commented.

British Colonel Ken Smith acknowledges two-and-a-half months is not enough time to fully train an officer corps. But he says it is a good start.

"We looked at the use of the armed forces in a modern society," explained Colonel Smith. "They have come from a culture of fear, where to complain is pretty dangerous, whereas we're encouraging them to question and understand the political significance of all their actions. And that's quite a daunting objective."

Colonel Smith says the course emphasizes the army's responsibility to support, not control, the civil authority.

One more Iraqi officer training course is scheduled in Jordan. After that, Colonel Smith says, the classes will move to a military academy in Iraq itself. Similar courses are being provided for the Iraqi police forces.