- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

BAGHDAD — Hundreds of men claiming to be former Iraqi soldiers converged at a U.S. base in central Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra yesterday, demanding financial assistance in a second day of violent protests.

The unrest reflected growing tension over the high unemployment rate in Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s military, formerly a major employer.

When Saddam’s army was disbanded in May, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority decided to pay a one-time stipend of $40 to the estimated 440,000 conscripts in the former military.

The idea was to tide the soldiers over until new jobs for them were created. Saturday was the final day for collecting the payments, distributed at nine locations across the country.

U.S. officials said yesterday that more than 320,000 former Iraqi soldiers, or 72 percent, had benefited from the program and blamed Saddam loyalists for inciting the protests.

Hundreds of men claiming to be former soldiers have gathered in Baghdad and Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, over the past two days, angrily claiming they have not been paid. The weekend clashes left three rioters dead and dozens injured in the two cities. Coalition officials said two U.S. soldiers were injured.

Coalition spokesman Charles Heatley said some Iraqis had been denied payment because they could not prove they had been in the military.

“We made payments right through 9:15 p.m. They had a list of conscripts entitled to pay. Those who came and were able to prove their ID received their payments,” he said.

The protesters who “have come forward saying they should be paid are not on the list as far as we’re concerned and they were not conscripts in the army.”

Coalition officials say the violent demonstrations were being provoked by remnants of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, some of whom were arrested on Saturday.

“It’s absolutely clear to us that there were former, very senior Ba’athist officers, some who are now in custody, who were stirring up these crowds,” Mr. Heatley said.

Many of the men at Sunday’s protest in Baghdad voiced frustration and even desperation that they had no jobs and no money to support their families.

One man in a ragged black T-shirt screamed out, “Look at me. How will I pay rent? How will I feed my children?”

Trying to calm the crowd, the police chief, Gen. Hassan al-Obeidi, told them to form a committee to discuss the matter with the authorities today.

The demonstrators dispersed peacefully after some pushing and shoving with U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police, unlike the day before when the crowd began hurling stones at the Americans and the Iraqi officers, who fired shots to try to disperse them.

Later Saturday some rioters moved to nearby Mansour district, where they burned and looted four liquor stores and set fire to an Iraqi police car in the upscale neighborhood.

Two ex-soldiers died from gunshot wounds to the head and at least 25 people were hurt during the Baghdad riot, according to hospital officials. U.S. officials said two soldiers were wounded and four Iraqis injured.

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