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Oct. 16, 2004. 01:00 AM
Toronto Star

U.S. soldiers refuse `suicide mission'

Security for fuel convoys lacking, families say Car bombing in Baghdad kills 10 civilians



WASHINGTON—The military is investigating the reported refusal this week by some U.S. troops to take part in a supply convoy in Iraq, where explosive devices have killed dozens of soldiers, defence officials said yesterday.

A statement issued by the U.S. military in Iraq called it an "isolated incident." Family members of some of the nearly 20 troops told a U.S. newspaper that security for the fuel trucks was inadequate.

"I got a call from an officer in another unit early (Thursday) morning who told me that my husband and his platoon had been arrested on a bogus charge because they refused to go on a suicide mission," the newspaper quoted Jackie Butler of Jackson as saying.

"When my husband refuses to follow an order, it has to be something major," said Butler, identified as the wife of Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year reservist.

The military statement said 19 members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, a unit that moves water and other supplies for American troops, did not report to formation to prepare for their assigned convoy mission Wednesday morning. It said the investigation would determine whether the military's strict code of conduct was violated.

Refusal to obey orders, especially in a combat zone, is a serious military offence. But the statement stressed "it is far too early in the investigation to speculate as to what happened, why it happened or any action that might be taken."

Teresa Hill of Dothan, Ala., said she received a phone message from her daughter, Amber McClenny, saying her platoon had been detained by U.S. military authorities.

Hill said she was later contacted by Spc. Tammy Reese in Iraq. "She told me (Amber) was being held in a tent with armed guards," said Hill, who spoke with her daughter after her release yesterday. Her daughter said they are facing punishment ranging from a reprimand to a charge of mutiny.

The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., reported yesterday that interviews with some family members indicated that soldiers from the unit, based in Tallil, refused to go on the mission to Taji, north of Baghdad, because they felt they did not have an adequate armed escort and the vehicles were not in good shape.

"Initial indication is that the soldiers scheduled for the convoy mission raised some valid concerns and the command is addressing them," the military statement from Iraq said, adding that some soldiers apparently expressed their concerns "in an inappropriate manner."

The mission was carried out by other soldiers from the unit, the military statement said.

Civilian and military convoys in Iraq, where more than 1,000 U.S. troops have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March, 2003, are frequently targets for roadside bombings and other ambushes.

In other developments in Iraq yesterday, U.S. forces arrested Falluja's chief negotiator in broken-off talks with Iraqi officials, witnesses said.

Khaled al-Jumaili, an Islamic cleric, was arrested as he left a mosque in a village about 15 kilometres south of Falluja, they said. There was no confirmation from U.S. authorities.

In Baghdad, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began with a powerful car bomb that exploded near a police patrol in the south, killing 10 civilians, including a family of four passing in their car.

With files from Associated Press

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