Exhausted and Bereft, Iraqi Soldiers Quit Fight
By KAREEM FAHIM and SUADAD AL-SALHYJUNE 10, 2014
BAGHDAD — The infantryman and his colleagues were already worn down after six months of fighting militants in western Iraq, men flush with weapons and zeal. Army commanders had no answer for the daily deadly ambushes and no broader strategy for prevailing in the longer war.
The final straw was the death of a friend, killed two weeks ago by a sniper’s bullet. The infantryman, Bashar al-Halbousi, deserted, making the same choice as hundreds of other soldiers in his battalion, he said.
“The state is weak,” Mr. Halbousi said. “This will be an endless battle.”
After months of grinding conflict against a resurgent militant movement, the Iraqi Army is having its power blunted by a rise in desertions, turning the tide of the war and fragmenting an institution, trained and funded by the United States, that some hoped would provide Iraqis a common sense of citizenship.
In a nation tearing apart along sectarian lines, Sunnis and Shiites have served together in the military. But the defections of Sunni soldiers threatened to deepen the growing perception among Iraq’s Sunnis that the military serves as an instrument of Shiite power, even while Shiites soldiers have also fled.