The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Glum troops just want to go home

Tikrit, Sept. 5 (Reuters): If they had the chance, US soldiers at a base in Iraq would have had one question for defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld — When are we going home'

But Rumsfeld cancelled a speech he was due to give today to the troops at their base at the palace of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in his hometown of Tikrit. “I don’t give a damn about Rumsfeld. All I give a damn about is going home,” Specialist Rue Gretton said, humping packs of water bottles on his shoulders from a truck.

“The only thing his visit meant for us was we had to clean up a lot of mess to make the place look pretty. And he didn’t even look at it anyway,” Gretton said after soldiers swept the dusty streets around the complex of lakes and mansions.

They also erected a stage and set out chairs for a speech that Rumsfeld cancelled due to a tight schedule. Instead, the Pentagon chief briefly thanked soldiers after a meeting with military leaders. “It was good for morale,” said Major Josslyn Alberle, a spokeswoman for the Fourth Infantry Division headquartered at the palace.

Sergeant Green, 40, did not think so.

“If I got to talk to Rumsfeld I’d tell him to give us a return date. We’ve been here six months and the rumour is we’ll be here until at least March. This is totally, totally uncalled for,” she said.

Green, who asked not to be identified by her first name, complained she would miss seeing her 16-year-old through her whole school year.

Rumsfeld has been criticised for sending too few troops to Iraq leaving them stretched thin on extended deployments trying to help rebuild the country and fight a guerrilla war. He has urged allies to supply some 15,000 additional troops and hopes training Iraqi forces will ease the burden on US troops.

When the Armed Forces Network showed earlier footage of Rumsfeld saying that fresh US troops were unnecessary in Iraq, soldiers at the base threw their hands in the air and shouted: “No way” at the television.

“I ain’t happy. No way am I happy seeing that,” said Specialist Devon Pierce, whose wife was due to give birth to his first son in two weeks. “This tour is hard, real hard. It’s too much. It should be six months.”

Other soldiers said they could not complain openly about their long deployment for fear of being disciplined. Earlier this year, military leaders warned their troops they should not show disrespect for Rumsfeld after a rash of criticism from soldiers in Iraq appeared in the media.

Guerrillas regularly attack the palace complex with mortars and rockets. But soldiers acknowledged that with air-conditioned rooms and burgers and hot dogs in the mess hall they had it easier than many of the more than 150,000 US troops in Iraq.

Many also said that while they wanted to be with their families at backyard barbecues or on trips to the baseball park, they knew what they signed up for by joining the army and were committed to stabilising Iraq.

In Baghdad today, gunmen sprayed a Sunni mosque with bullets during dawn prayers, wounding three worshippers.

Russia’s Ivanov said the situation in Iraq remained serious and urged the US not to make light of it.

“One cannot but express surprise at statements made by some Washington officials that life in Iraq is returning to normal and becoming better virtually day-by-day,” he said.

“One should not be misled — the situation in Iraq is becoming not better, but worse day-by-day.”

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