Jewish World Review March 27, 2003 / 23 Adar II, 5763

Terry Eastland

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'Free Iraqi Forces' underscore Bush's sincerity | The war barely had begun when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking to a packed house at the Pentagon about Operation Iraqi Freedom, referred in passing to the "Free Iraqi Forces."

You can be forgiven if you wonder who they are. Few media outlets, though this newspaper is a worthy exception, have reported on them. But the story of the Free Iraqi Forces is worth observing as the war moves toward its inevitable climax.

The forces are made up exclusively of Iraqis who indeed are free - meaning they are free of Saddam Hussein. They live outside Iraq - a necessary condition of their freedom - having fled or been exiled during the dictator's long and cruel reign.

They have volunteered for the Free Iraqi Forces - a program run by the Defense Department to assist in the liberation of their homeland.

They have specific jobs. Having received the necessary training, they are assigned to U.S. military forces and work as guides and translators. At war's end, they will assist with refugee resettlement.

The U.S. Army trains the volunteers at Taszar Air Base in Hungary. They learn military customs, the Law of Armed Conflict (including the Geneva Conventions, a neglected text in the Iraqi army), map reading and first aid. They are taught how to identify land mines, use small arms in self-defense and protect themselves against weapons of mass destruction. They also are prepared to help displaced citizens and coordinate with relief agencies. Indeed, "the primary focus of the training," according to Maj. Gen. David Barno, who is in charge of the program at Taszar Air Base, "is to assist in the post-conflict arena." Early this month, the first graduates of the training program - and thus the first Free Iraqi Forces - were integrated with the U.S. military forces then massing for invasion. A second cohort will finish training soon, and a third group will begin early next week.

The Pentagon won't say exactly how many Free Iraqi Forces are in or near Iraq, but the best estimates place the number at a few hundred. The Pentagon has the resources to train as many as 3,000. Thousands have applied.

Most of the first volunteers are from the United States and range in age from 18 to 55. The Dallas Morning News recently reported that at least 16 volunteers are from the Dallas area. (Ten are Kurdish immigrants from northern Iraq; the other six are Iraqi Shiites.)

One is Kaya Ari, 45, a Kurdish immigrant who now is a U.S. citizen. He speaks five languages and is in the war zone, serving, as you might expect, as an interpreter.

Mr. Ari's wife, Heyam, told the story of how they immigrated to the United States after living three years in a squalid refugee camp in Turkey. They were driven from Iraq by Saddam Hussein's military. She says the dictator killed her grandmother, grandfather and uncles.

While the details vary, stories of that kind, involving brutality and murder, are legion. International observers of human rights say Saddam Hussein is responsible for the deaths of as many as 1 million Iraqis. No one should be surprised if he uses Iraqi citizens as human shields against the advancing coalition forces.

That Iraqis dispersed around the world should be willing to expose themselves to danger in Iraq as members of the Free Iraqi Forces is a testimony to both their bravery and their conviction that Saddam Hussein must go. For them, regime change hardly is an abstract proposition.

When President Bush said last month that "the first to benefit from a free Iraq would be the Iraqi people," those already minted as or in training to be Free Iraqi Forces understood him most deeply of all. A free Iraq, perhaps even one they can dwell in again, is what they yearn for.

The Free Iraqi Forces are witnesses to the truth, as Mr. Bush has put it, that "the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on earth." What a glorious thing it must be to be an Iraqi expatriate wearing the uniform of the Free Iraqi Forces. For them, the liberation of Iraq can't be accomplished a day too soon.

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JWR contributor Terry Eastland is is publisher of The Weekly Standard.Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Terry Eastland