Increasing numbers of US troops are going AWOL – absent without leave – from Iraq. Many are opposed to the continued occupation while others are traumatised by what they have done and what they have seen. Typical is the story of Augustin Aguayo, who is now in a military prison in Mannheim, Germany.
He first applied for discharge as a conscientious objector in February 2004 as he was beginning his first deployment in Iraq. His application was denied by the Pentagon in 2005. Aguayo was stationed in Germany when he escaped through a window in base housing and fled rather than face a second tour in Iraq. He maintains military commanders told him they would send him to Iraq in handcuffs, if necessary.
US military records show that between 8,000 and 10,000 soldiers are currently unaccounted for. Hundreds of anti-war soldiers are believed to be AWOL in Canada, however. A few have publicly petitioned for asylum, and earlier this week the first US soldier who escaped to Canada turned himself in at Fort Knox. Specialist Darrell Anderson, who was decorated for taking shrapnel to protect the rest of his unit from a roadside bomb, said he deserted the army last year because he could no longer fight in what he believes is an illegal war. "I feel that by resisting I made up for the things I did in Iraq," Anderson said during a press briefing shortly before turning himself in. "I feel I made up for the sins I committed in this war."
In April of 2004, Anderson says, he was ordered to open fire on a car full of innocent civilians. The car had sped through a US military checkpoint and his commander said it was army procedure to fire on any vehicle that did not stop. Anderson refused the order. He returned from Iraq emotionally damaged, with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. When his unit arrived home, he ran away to Canada rather than return to Iraq. This week his mother drove him from Toronto to Kentucky and said:
"I believe everything my son told me," she said. "Darrell said the people he fought were killing American soldiers because they don't know who we are. All they know is that we're going through their cities with tanks. Our soldiers are imprisoning them. When we take people off to Abu Ghraib we don't tell their families. Darrell said they took boys and fathers off and the wives and sisters never knew what happened for weeks at a time. We'd be outraged if that happened in the US."
The occupation of Iraq, which costs US taxpayers £2 billion a week, has provoked a sectarian civil war which claims the lives of 100 people a day. Yesterday the Iraqi authorities said that they had suspended an entire brigade of as many as 1,200 police officers for suspected connections to a mass kidnapping and murder. The school and university system is reportedly close to collapse because of the violence. The Iraqi people are paying an horrific price for the 2003 invasion, which had nothing to do with bringing democracy to the area and everything to do with corporate ambition to impose a market economy on the country. History will make its own judgement on George W.Bush and Tony Blair and their governments.
Paul Feldman, communications editor