BAGHDAD -- Sami Abbas, a former Iraqi colonel wearing a tribal headdress and robe, flashed a bank-stiff $100 bill and began gesturing and sputtering in a way that made a 125-degree day seem even hotter.
''This $100 is nothing to me,'' he raged. ''I can tear it into 1,000 pieces!''
Gathering an audience, Abbas seemed eager to rip up the bill into so much confetti. But then, nervously glancing at a rifle-ready US soldier, he abandoned the plan.
Yesterday was the day of the colonels at a former Baghdad military airfield, as more than 5,000 who once held that rank lined up to pocket a US handout that equaled half a month's pay in the former Iraqi army. Many, like Abbas, felt that the sum was a sign of disrespect and would not help them navigate the tough times ahead.
US soldiers check former Iraqi Army officers prior to getting his back pay in Baghdad, Iraq Wednesday July 16, 2003. Former Iraqi soldiers began receiving their $US100 back wages as promised by the US administraion in Iraq. (AP Mikhail Metzel)
The money, which other officers are scheduled to receive in the coming days, was the first that many of them had received in four months. And for the former soldiers, whose hearts and minds are vital to US efforts to pacify Iraq, the prospect of receiving more American greenbacks on a regular basis does not appear guaranteed.
Inside a massive hangar, Abbas's reaction to US policy was limited to venting and sullen resignation. But in the streets of Baghdad and beyond, the enemies of the American occupation struck hard at the military and its allies.
In a rapid-fire series of attacks, the pro-American mayor of Hadithah was fatally shot while driving through the western city. And at Baghdad International Airport yesterday morning, insurgents fired a surface-to-air missile that missed an arriving US military C-130 transport plane.
In other attacks, one American soldier in a supply convoy was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade west of Baghdad, and an 8-year-old child died when a grenade was thrown into a US military vehicle guarding a bank in the capital.
More than 30 US soldiers have been killed in hostile action since President Bush declared on May 1 that major fighting had ended.
At the airfield where the colonels received their stipends, the stakes were high as the United States seeks to cultivate support among a vanquished enemy that once held some of the most prestigious and secure positions in Iraqi society.
Few of the former officers seemed happy to be there. Abbas, 55, complained that the $100 is a pittance compared with the pressing needs of his 13-member family. But neither Abbas nor other waiting colonels displayed any hostility toward the US troops. ''If Americans want people to be peaceful, they must lessen the suffering of the Iraqi army,'' Abbas said.L. Paul Bremer III, the top US administrator here, apparently shares that view. After Bremer disbanded the 400,000-man standing army without pay in May, the resulting tensions boiled over into a violent protest outside coalition headquarters in June. US troops killed two demonstrators. Less than a week later, the US-led administration announced that former officers would be eligible for pensions, ranging from $50 to $150 a month, that would roughly equal their former pay.
But yesterday, those promises appeared to have frayed. The payments were only half their regular pay, the colonels said. And the civilian Iraqis who counted out crisp bills for the colonels said they had not been told whether the money would be dispensed every month.
''This is not a salary; this is just an emergency payment,'' said Hilal Freah, an engineer who checked the colonels' names against a list of former top Ba'athists and other banned officials. ''We don't know yet if this will be reissued.''
Yesterday marked the second day of payments here and at a half-dozen other locations in Iraq. On Tuesday, more than 4,000 former generals -- an absurdly high number by American military standards -- queued at the airfield to collect stipends of $120 each. Sergeant Kerry Anderson of the First Armored Division, standing guard at the gate to the airfield, said US officials had expected 400 to show up. The result, he said, was chaos as the ex-generals trampled the concertina wire laid to keep them in line, shoved against each other for hours, and lashed out verbally at US soldiers assigned to keep order.
''We had two-dozen heat casualties and administered a lot of first aid,'' said Anderson, 23, of Long Beach, Calif. ''And every fifth person had some injury -- a cut on their foot, blood on their shirt, or something.''
Today, lieutenant colonels will be paid, followed by majors on Saturday, captains on Sunday, and lieutenants and noncommissioned officers through Aug. 2.
The colonels praised the politeness of the American soldiers but were clearly disgruntled about walking an administrative gantlet from the street to the hangar, being searched for weapons, filling out application forms, and then waiting as civilian functionaries checked their names against a computerized roster of political outcasts.
''This is very difficult for us because we're very high-ranking officers,'' said Haqi Ismail, 41, who said he joined the army in 1980.
The US administration has announced plans for a new army, but its original proposal banned colonels and higher. That's fine with Nasir al-Abed, 40, a former air-defense colonel who served in the recent war against the United States. A former Ba'athist, Abed said he joined the party because promotion was impossible without membership.
''When you have to make a choice between having a higher rank or losing your job, you have to make a choice,'' said Abed, who has started a money-exchange business. He said he will gladly leave military affairs to others. ''We surrender to God because we are helpless.''
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