Friday, April 16, 2004

Salvadorans "heroic" in Iraq; their families destitute at home

From a story in today's El Diario de Hoy, I was tipped off to a comment made last Friday (April 9) by an anonymous Coalition official who, in announcing that U.S. forces were moving towards Najaf, noted that Salvadoran soldiers had been the exception to the rule of otherwise reluctant international forces. Unlike other Coalition forces, they'd gone out and fought "heroically:"

"Signaling a strategic shift, the Pentagon has directed elements of the Army's 1st Armored Division, which has patrolled Baghdad since May and was scheduled to go home within weeks, to move south. Those seasoned troops are needed to help retake cities from Sadr's militia and to patrol parts of the country that had been occupied by multinational troops of varying combat readiness.

''We are waiting for American forces to come in and restore the peace,'' said a coalition official in the south who asked for anonymity because his comments were not in keeping with the coalition's upbeat public message. ``The multinational forces will not do this -- they refuse to leave their bases and do routine patrols. In some cases, they've withdrawn and refused to fight or hold their ground against minimal attacks.''

The official said that El Salvadoran soldiers were an exception, acting ''heroically'' in repulsing attacks in Najaf."

This was from a Knight-Ridder wire story published in the Miami Herald last Friday.

Meanwhile, La Prensa Gráfica reports that the wife and mother of one soldier in Iraq, René de Jesús Rivas, visited the Assembly and urged the legislators to bring the troops home, saying that they only received $60 a month from the Ministry of Defense, which was not enough to cover basic living expenses.

The FMLN and CDU introduced a motion in the plenary session yesterday to bring the troops home, saying that they hadn't participated in reconstruction activities, while a motion by the PCN to authorize greater social benefits to soldiers participating in international missions was also introduced. Both bills were sent to the Defense Committee for study. (I suppose I should mention a demonstration by some 50 Salvadorans outside the consulate in Los Angeles, but that seems depressingly too tiny to say much about.)

Far from indicating any selfless, humanitarian motives for sending troops to Iraq, ARENA deputy Renato Pérez was quite direct about why he thought troops should be there: "Since the U.S. is our principal commercial partner, we have to be in solidarity with them." The Minister of Defense, José Martínez Varela, on the other hand, said that retiring Salvadoran troops from Iraq "would be a bad signal to the terrorists, that could increment its attacks against the civilian population."

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