An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 men arrived by foot, bus, and other vehicles by sun up Feb. 14, at an airfield outside an Iraqi army base in an effort to join the Iraq’s army, officials said.
Of that, close to 5,000 made it through a screening process that led them onto the base, which is home to several thousand Iraqi soldiers and a contingent of U.S. service members. Most will be transferred to other bases in Iraq to supplement existing units, officials said.
The process was a result of the largest recruitment effort for the Iraqi army to date, said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Woodley of the Multinational Security Transition Command – Iraq.
During the screening process, potential recruits were given a literacy test, physical condition check, and questioned about prior military service. Once inside the base, they went through a medical screening and received uniforms, boots and other military-related clothing.
Of those who were turned back, or did not make it through the screening, leaders told them to return for another recruitment drive.
Many recruits showed up with proof that they were serving when Saddam Hussein’s regime fell and they were subsequently released from duty. Former Iraqi army Maj. Hussien Ali Kadhun, 48, traveled about an hour and a half by bus to rejoin.
“I want to serve my country and fight the terrorists,” he said, through a translator. Ali Kadhun said he graduated from a military college in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in military science. He returned to school to study law shortly after his release from the army in 2003.
Another former soldier, Hakeem Shaial Hassan, 27, worked as a farmer after his first stint in the Army. It took him nearly four hours to get to the airfield with a group of friends, looking for a job to provide him and his family with a better income. New recruits earn $420,380 dinars a month, or about $212 in U.S. dollars, officials said.
“I am proud that I made it,” Shaial Hassan said, through an interpreter. “But I am sad that my friends did not. They will have to go back home and tell their families they did not make it.”
U.S. Army officials were expecting a little more than 6,000 potential recruits. U.S. military members from the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy were joined by several civilian security personnel and a few hundred Iraqi soldiers stationed at the base. Several dozen Iraqi soldiers arrived at the base the day before and went right to work early the next morning, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Harvey, base commander.
“We encountered all friendlies, no bombs and no deaths,” Harvey said. “So I’m happy.”