Pentagon: Soldiers of Iraq's Rag-Tag 51st division surrender to Allied forces
The Jerusalem Post

22 March 2003

SOUTHERN IRAQ - Hordes of Iraqi soldiers, underfed and overwhelmed, surrendered in the face of a state-of-the-art allied assault, with Pentagon officials saying soldiers in Iraq's 51st Division giving themselves up in the southern desert, after their commander gave himself up.

These were not the fabled and well-fed Republican Guardsmen who anchor Saddam's defense - these were a rag-tag army, many of them draftees, often in T-shirts.

Their handguns and small arms could accomplish little against opposing forces wielding 21st century weaponry.

"I kind of felt sorry for them," said one US military official, speaking Friday on condition of anonymity. "A lot of them looked hungry. They haven't been fed in a while."

He spoke after US Marines and their allies took control of the strategic port city of Umm Qasr and with it, Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf. The out-classed Iraqis fought with small arms, pistols, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Authorities said the nation's southern oil fields would be secured by day's end.

At the same time, the Army's 3rd Infantry Division surged 100 miles (160 kilometers) into Iraq. Much more was to come - an extraordinary land-based armada of allied weaponry and troops was caught in an enormous traffic jam in Kuwait, ready to strike when it could cross the border.

There were pockets of resistance, some of it stiff; a second combat death was reported Friday, a member of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force who was wounded while battling a platoon of Iraqi infantry.

But often, the opponent advanced with a white flag in hand, instead of a rifle.

Within a few hours of crossing into southern Iraq, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit encountered 200 or more Iraqi troops seeking to surrender. One group of 40 Iraqis marched down a two-lane road toward the Americans and gave up.

Another group of Iraq soldiers alongside a road waved a white flag and their raised hands, trying to flag down a group of journalists so they could surrender.

Forty to 50 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to a Marine traffic control unit. They came down the road in the open back of a troop vehicle, their hands in the air for about a mile (1.6 kilometer) before they reached the Marines.

Their decision to give up the fight was not unexpected, or unprompted; for months, Iraq has been bombarded with messages from the Americans, urging its soldiers to refuse to fight.

At a Pentagon news conference Friday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld called upon Iraq's military to "do the honorable thing, stop fighting that you may live to enjoy a free Iraq, where you and your children can grow and prosper."

How many Iraqis had surrendered? No one knew for sure. Rumsfeld said he knew of a few hundred, and others who just quit fighting. "A lot of people just leave and melt into the countryside," he said.

Rumsfeld said the allied forces were advancing, and now controlled "a growing portion of the country of Iraq." The captured territory included two airfields in western Iraq.

The ground advance into Iraq appeared to be moving faster than planned. Units reached locations in Iraq 24 hours ahead of their expected arrival time, according to several reporters attached to those units.

The Army's 3rd Infantry Division was following a path through the desert west of the Euphrates River, avoiding populated areas. It appeared that strategists sought to minimize civilian and military casualties by flanking most Iraqi units, and going straight for the Republican Guard around Baghdad.

The bulk of the allied force hadn't even entered Iraq yet.