January 26, 2005 in Nation/World

Iraq violence on video, in streets

Alissa J. Rubin Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

In this image taken from insurgents’ video released on Tuesday, a man who identifies himself as American Roy Hallums pleads for Arab rulers to intercede to spare his life.
(Full-size photo)

National Guard wants to boost signing bonus

WASHINGTON – Looking for new ways to bolster its thinning ranks, the Army National Guard is seeking legal authority to offer $15,000 bonuses to active-duty soldiers willing to join the Guard — up from $50 now.

Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters Tuesday that the Guard is 15,000 soldiers below its normal strength of 350,000, and he expects further short-term declines despite recent gains from tripling re-enlistment bonuses for Guardsmen deployed abroad.

If the Guard fails to return to its normal troop level of 350,000 by the end of the budget year on Sept. 30, it will be the first time that has happened since 1989, the three-star general said. He added that he believes he has a formula for restoring the Guard’s strength.

Heavily stressed by longer-than-anticipated combat and support duties in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Guard recently increased first-time enlistment bonuses and added 1,400 recruiters.

In explaining his interest in getting congressional approval for $15,000 bonuses to entice active-duty military members to join the Guard, Blum said he believes he could get 8,000 new Guardsmen this way. He said the existing $50 bonus carries little weight in today’s economy.

“That incentive may have been a big deal 50 years ago, but it doesn’t buy much today,” he said.

Blum offered two main reasons the Guard has found it harder to get active-duty soldiers to switch to the Guard. Many are prevented from leaving the active Army even after their contracts are up or their retirement dates have arrived because the Army invoked a special authority known as “stop loss” that freezes soldiers in place for months at a time. Also, those who can leave active duty are sometimes less interested in joining the Guard if they believe that their prospective Guard unit is in line for a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The intractability of the violence gripping Iraq was on graphic display Tuesday with the release of a videotape of an American hostage begging for his life at gunpoint, the assassination of an Iraqi judge and the killing of at least five members of Iraq’s security forces.

In an admission of the security difficulties, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said in a news conference that it was “futile and dangerous” at this point to give a final date for U.S. troop withdrawal from the country. He scoffed at Iraqi politicians who claimed it was possible to set such deadlines, charging that in advance of Sunday’s national elections they were using the issue for political reasons.

“I will not set final dates” for the withdrawal of international forces, Allawi said. “I will not deal with the security matter under political pretexts and exaggerations that do not serve Iraq and its people.”

The videotape released Tuesday showed Roy Hallums, 56, an American who was seized on Nov. 1 in Baghdad’s Mansour district, the site of many kidnappings.

In the tape, a visibly exhausted Hallums is seated on the floor and the camera shows a gun pointed at his head. He begs Arab leaders to help win his release, citing in particular Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who he said “is known for helping those who are suffering” but made a point of saying that he was not looking to President Bush for help.

“I am please asking for help because my life is in danger because it’s been proved I worked for American forces,” Hallums says. “I’m not asking for any help from President Bush because I know of his selfishness and unconcern for those who’ve been pushed into this hellhole.”

Hallums was seized along with Roberto Tarongoy, a Filipino who was not shown on the tape, and four other men who were freed in November. The hostages worked for a company that had a contract to provide food to the Iraqi military.

It was unclear whether the tape was made recently and indicated his present frame of mind, especially since such tapes are almost always made under duress. The tape was being reviewed by a team at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

On Tuesday, gunfights erupted in the eastern part of Baghdad as police battled insurgents who had been handing out leaflets warning people not to vote. In the same area, police and insurgents exchanged fire as police attempted to check out a potential car bomb, and insurgents fired on Iraqi forces and American troops when they responded to another bomb that blew up at a school in the same area. Three police officers and two Iraqi soldiers were reported killed in various skirmishes around the city.

Insurgents also shot to death Qais Hashim Shameri, secretary-general of the judges council in the Justice Ministry. At least one other person in the car was killed.

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