On Wednesday, October 13th, eighteen Army reservists from the 343rd Quartermasters company based in Rock Hill, South Carolina refused to set out on a suicidal convoy mission through the Iraqi desert. The reservists, who had been ordered to deliver fuel to a city north of Baghdad, reported that their trucks had no armor and were prone to breaking down, that they were carrying contaminated fuel, and that they had no armed escort while being ordered to drive through an area where they could expect to draw heavy fire.
Eighteen soldiers chose to save their lives rather than follow orders, and they were quickly taken into a tent and held under armed guard. News of the mutiny reached the U.S. only because some of the soldiers were able to make phone calls to their families at home.
Once newspapers began picking up the story, the U.S. Army quickly issued a statement denying that any troops had been arrested and calling the troops’ refusal an “isolated incident confined to a small group of individuals.”
But despite such carefully planned statements from military brass and pro-war politicians, most soldiers in Iraq are familiar with the dangerous conditions that caused this group of reservists to defy orders. Soldiers know firsthand that the occupation faces mass opposition and an increasingly effective insurgency. No amount of “boots on the ground” will offer any solution to the U.S. occupation’s crisis.
The reservists’ refusal was the first publicized incident of its kind since the beginning of the Iraq war, but there are other signs of falling morale in the armed forces. Fahrenheit 9/11 has become a popular film among some of the troops, and some soldiers are skipping their call-ups. The Associated Press reported that out of the 2,288 Individual Ready Reserve soldiers who were supposed to report for duty by October 17th, over 800 haven’t shown up.
We defend the right of reservists and other troops to refuse call-ups, which amount to a backdoor draft. We also defend the right of soldiers in the field to refuse unsafe orders. Soldiers’ lives are more important than the priorities of pro-war politicians who have sent them into impossible situations.
The military may be planning to severely discipline soldiers who have defied deadly orders, but the people who really deserve to be held to account are the politicians who sent the troops into harm’s way and are responsible for the destruction of Iraq and the Abu Ghraib atrocities.
The only way to end this madness is to bring the troops home now.