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US decides to pay Iraqi soldiers and form new Army

The plan announced Monday is a significant departure from an initial policy of a one-time severance payment.

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After weeks of friction between US authorities and the former Iraqi forces, the shape of a New Iraqi Army is emerging, along with plans to pay ex-soldiers who had been summarily dismissed last month.

The stipend plan - and the announcement Monday by US administrators that a streamlined and professional Army will begin recruiting next week - is an acknowledgment of the dangers stemming from the mass disbandment of former soldiers. The new monthly payments are a significant departure from the initial policy of a one-time severance payout. Besides the regular Army, the Republican Guard will also be included.

"The Iraq Army had a long tradition of service ... and many, perhaps most of its officers and soldiers regarded themselves as professionals serving the nation and not the Baathist regime," chief US administrator L. Paul Bremer said in a statement. "We have always said that former military personnel, except for those most deeply involved in the regime, would be part of the future of Iraq."

The decision to continue payments is likely to take the edge off the anger of former soldiers, who had threatened violence andand set a deadline of Monday for a response to their demands for pay.

"Of course, there will be a change in thinking," says Blund Hassib, a former Iraqi colonel. He estimates that 75 percent of Iraq's former officers - many of whom felt they did the US a favor by lackluster fighting during the war - think "negatively" about the US occupation. "Until now," he adds, "no one has given these [former] soldiers any future, or told them what the new Army will be like."

Charting a new course

An initial division of 12,000 Iraqi troops is meant to be deployable within a year. A three-division force numbering 40,000 is to be ready in two years to guard Iraq's borders, secure routes and key facilities, and clean up explosives and mines.

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