IN THE WESTERN IRAQI DESERT, 16 April 2003 — The commander of 16,000 Iraqi Army troops who controlled the vast area along the Syrian border formally surrendered to US forces yesterday, marking another dramatic step toward the end of the Iraq war. The surrender came as the US-led forces focus growing attention on Syria, which Washington and London allege is hiding chemical weapons and had been cooperating extensively with the now-toppled regime of Saddam Hussein.
“I am ready to help. Thank you for liberating Iraq and making it stable,” said a clearly emotional Gen. Mohammed Jarawi, after inking the formal agreement under a broiling sun at a remote outpost in the western Iraqi desert. “I hope we have a very good friendship with the United States,” Jarawi said, shaking the hand of US Col. Curtis Potts, commander of the 4th Brigade of the US 3rd Infantry Division.
“Now is the time to rebuild Iraq and turn over the country to the Iraqi people,” Potts said after signing his name to the surrender. Jarawi headed the Anbar section command, Iraqi forces who under Saddam Hussein’s rule had control over the sweeping western Anbar province extending all the way to the Syrian border and down along the frontier with Saudi Arabia.
Jarawi, in full military uniform with black beret, stood silently with his No. 2, Brig. Ahmad Sadeq, as Potts accepted the papers and handed them to his assistants, to be passed up later in the day to the highest levels of US command. “We ask you to try to secure the Iraqi people,” the general said, acknowledging the widespread looting and anarchy which have swept the nation since Saddam’s regime fell apart under a blistering US-led assault.
“That’s the plan,” Potts told him, “and that’s what we are here for.” Jarawi then offered a hand in gratitude to Potts, saying: “Thank you for your help, especially for the good treatment.” The two men sat across from each other at a small folding table, hastily set up at an abandoned telecommunications outpost for a surrender that Potts said must have been “very hard” for Jarawi to sign.
“I was honored to represent coalition forces and the United States, and humbled because as I looked across the table I saw a professional soldier who was doing what was right for his nation, for the country of Iraq and for his people,” Potts told AFP.
The two men later headed a convoy to 10 different sites in the Anbar region where Potts said US forces disabled at least 51 tanks and 20 armored vehicles attached to Jarawi’s command. The tanks were scattered in several village farms, most sat under palm trees and some behind sheep pens. Along the four-hour route, Jarawi informed villagers that some of the Iraqi commanders who had fled during the war could now safely return.
“The mission was a great success. We have destroyed almost three battalions of Iraqi equipment,” Potts said, before dropping off the Iraqi general at his home in Ramadi. Potts had said it was unclear how many of the 16,000 men Jarawi commanded remained under his direct control. Many appeared to have already given up the fight in recent days, while others disappeared.