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US troops stare at long haul in fiery Iraq

Baghdad, June 23 (Reuters): The US announced fresh plans to pacify angry former Iraqi soldiers and create a new Iraqi army today as two visiting US senators said American soldiers could stay for more than five years.

American efforts to restore order in Iraq took another blow when an oil export pipeline, not in use since the US-led war began on March 20, exploded near the Syrian border, in the third Iraqi pipeline blast this month.

Two visiting US senators said American troops may need to stay in Iraq for at least five years. Richard Lugar, a Republican, urged President George W. Bush to do some “real truth-telling” to explain to his people how much commitment and money would be needed to rebuild the country from the ruins of war and 35 years of Baathist rule.

“I think we’re going to be here in a big way with forces and economic input for a minimum of three to five years,” his Democrat colleague Joseph Biden said. Many Iraqis were glad to see the back of Saddam Hussein, but are impatient to get rid of their US-British occupiers.

One grudge is the failure to install an interim Iraqi government and get public servants back to paid work. The US-led administration disbanded the old army last month along with security agencies and the information and defence ministries, making about 400,000 people jobless.

“This country was grotesquely over-militarised,” Walter Slocomb, an aide to chief administrator Paul Bremer, said. “It is the fact that most people who were in the old army will not be able to continue military careers.” Slocomb said recruiting would begin next week for a new light infantry force that would eventually number about 40,000 to guard Iraq’s borders and key installations.

The aim was to get one 12,000-strong division fully operational a year after training began. Two more divisions would be trained and ready within two years, he said.

Slocomb said former soldiers would now be paid a “monthly interim stipend” slightly lower than their previous salaries until a new Iraqi government could decide their future.

Payscales for the stipend would be similar to civil servant salaries, ranging from $50 to $150 a month. Senior Baathists would be excluded from the compensation plan and the new army.

Anger among unpaid soldiers boiled into violence last week when US troops shot dead two protesters in a crowd that was stoning a military convoy as it drove into the administration’s headquarters in Saddam’s former palace compound in Baghdad.

The fatalities have prompted US combat forces to train with unfamiliar non-lethal riot control equipment.

A score of American soldiers with visors, protective leg pads, plastic shields and wooden batons went through their paces outside the palace compound on Sunday evening.

A truck with what looked like a water cannon on top was parked nearby.

“We’re not just saying we’ll do better next time,” Captain John Morgan said. “They’re doing some training, they’re reacting, they’re getting better at what they do.”

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