5,600 Ex-GIs Face Call Up

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For the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. Army is forcing thousands of former soldiers back into uniform, a reflection of the strain on the service of long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army is expected to announce Wednesday that about 5,600 former soldiers - mostly people who recently left the service and have up-to-date skills in military policing, engineering, logistics, medicine or transportation - will be assigned to National Guard and Reserve units starting in July.

Many of them will find themselves in Iraq by the end of the year.

News of the planned call up comes on a historic day in Iraq: the U.S. handover to Iraq of the legal custody of Saddam Hussein and 11 of his former top deputies, as the U.S. military continued efforts to learn the fate of a GI reported dead by Arab TV Monday, and rebels continued attacks on U.S. forces.

The U.S. army soldiers facing potential recall by the Pentagon are in a rarely used pool of reservists known as the Individual Ready Reserve.

They are distinct from the National Guard and Reserve because they do not perform regularly scheduled training and are not paid as reservists, but they are eligible to be recalled in an emergency because their active duty hitches did not complete the service obligation in their enlistment contracts.

This is the first sizable activation of the Individual Ready Reserve since the 1991 Gulf War, though several hundred people have voluntarily returned to service since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The Army is targeting its recall on those who recently left the service and thus have fresher skills than retirees. Any time the military calls on its reservists for wartime duty, political implications arise because of the disruption to civilian lives and businesses. In this case it may reinforce the perception among some that Iraq is stretching the Army too far.

In other recent developments:

  • Ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was transferred to Iraqi legal custody Wednesday, along with eleven of his former top lieutenants. They'll appear in court Thursday but their war crimes trial won't begin for months, and according to Iraq's new government, Saddam will stay in a U.S.-run jail because the country doesn't have a suitable prison to hold him.
  • There is still no official word on the fate or whereabouts of U.S. Marine Spc. Keith M. Maupin. Al-Jazeera television reported Monday that Maupin, 20, was killed by terrorists who produced a murky videotape to back up their claim. Maupin has been on the missing list since an April 9th attack on U.S. military forces outside Baghdad.
  • A U.S. military base on the outskirts of Baghdad Airport was attacked Wednesday. Rebels fired at least 10 mortar rounds, wounding 11 soldiers, two of them seriously, and starting a fire in a petroleum products storage area that burned for well over an hour and left a thick cloud of smoke.

    "We're okay," said the commander of the base, Lt. Col. Richard Rael of the New Mexico Army National Guard's 515 Corps Support Battalion, as the fire was brought under control. "We'll get back to business as usual."

  • Also Wednesday, a car bomb exploded outside the headquarters of the provincial police force in Samawah, 150 miles south of Baghdad. Two people were wounded in the blast, which set two other vehicles ablaze.
  • Late Tuesday, rebel forces fired mortars a U.S. base near Balad, 50 miles north of the capital. There are no reports of casualties or damage.
  • In Baghdad Tuesday, a roadside bomb exploded, killing three U.S. Marines and wounding two in the first fatal attack on American forces since the transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government. Another roadside bomb detonated in Kirkuk, wounding a senior Kurdish official on his way to work and wounding one of his guards.
  • Turkey's foreign minister said Tuesday that an Iraqi extremist group freed three Turkish captives. A statement read on Al-Jazeera said that the group released the hostages "for the sake of their Muslim brothers."
  • Allawi said he plans to announce emergency measures that could temporarily curb freedoms. President Bush, speaking in Turkey about spreading democracy in the Middle East, raised no objection to the hard-line measures.
  • Ambassadors from the United States, Australia and Denmark presented credentials to President Ghazi al-Yawer on Tuesday, marking the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iraq and the three coalition countries.

    Iraq's new government is operating under major restrictions - some imposed to address the fears of the country's influential Shiite Muslim clergy, which wanted to limit the powers of an unelected administration.

    The interim government will hold power for seven months until, by U.N. Security Council resolution, elections are held "in no case later than" Jan. 31. In the meantime, U.S. and other coalition troops will retain responsibility for security.

    The U.S. Army is so stretched for manpower to cover its worldwide commitments that in April, it broke a promise to some active-duty units, including the 1st Armored Division, that they would not have to serve more than 12 months in Iraq. It also has extended the tours of other units, including some in Afghanistan.

    The men and women recalled from the Individual Ready Reserve will be assigned to Army Reserve and National Guard units that have been or soon will be mobilized for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, unless they successfully petition for exemption based on medical or other limitations. Rep. Rick Larsen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that dipping into the Individual Ready Reserve amounts to conscripting people to fight in Iraq.

    "If there was any doubt that this administration was conducting a pseudo-draft, this call-up should dispel that doubt," said Larsen, a Democrat from Washington state.

    Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has made similar complaints about the administration's use of Reserves and National Guardsmen through a "stop-loss" declaration issued by the Pentagon earlier this month. "Stop-loss" orders that prevent volunteer soldiers from going home, even after they've fulfilled their obligations. "They have effectively used a stop-loss policy," said Kerry, "as a backdoor draft."

    Any former enlisted soldier who did not complete their eight-year obligation is in the Individual Ready Reserve pool, as are all officers who have not resigned their commission. About 300,000 people are in the IRR.

    "It's not that we haven't done it before," said CBS News Military Analyst and retired U.S. Army Col. Mitch Mitchell. "We did it in Vietnam War, we did it in the 1991 Gulf War. But when we do that, it shows that we're spread pretty thin, and I think, too thin."

    The U.S. Army said the Individual Ready Reserve members who are recalled will be given at least 30 days' notice to report for training.

    Members of Congress were informed Tuesday of the planned but not-yet-announced recall, and word also made its way unofficially to the ears of some military families.

    One Vietnam veteran, Chuck Luczynski, says he can't help wondering whether his son, Matt, will be called back as part of the individual reserves. Matt Luczynski - who's getting out of the Army after four years, the final year in Iraq with the 101st Airborne - plans to start a computer programming business.

    "That's on everybody's mind right now," said his dad. "They took their turn, and they would hope everybody took a turn so that a few don't carry the many."

    In January, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the Army to activate as many as 6,500 people from the Individual Ready Reserve, drawing on presidential authority granted in 2001.

    Not until May did the Army begin looking in detail at the available pool of people.

    At that point some Army recruiters caused a controversy when they contacted members of the Individual Ready Reserve and suggested they would wind up in Iraq unless they joined a Reserve or Guard unit. Some complained that they were being coerced to transfer into a Reserve unit.