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An angry Iraqi army officer asks why his talent is wasted

After Baghdad fell, Lt. Col. Amer Abdullah al-Rubaie stayed at home and waited to resume his career as an officer in the Iraqi army.

To Rubaie, a special forces instructor and son of a retired general, it seemed reasonable to assume that he would keep his privileged position in the military even if it meant serving a new master.

Holed up in his spacious villa on the edge of the capital, he had never taken up arms against American troops, he said. He was fit, ready and pleased that Saddam Hussein was no longer his commander in chief.

But no one has called Col. Rubaie or any other members of the national army, which the American occupation authority disbanded by decree six months ago. If he wanted to join the new army, he was told, he could sign up with the other recruits.

"I have a degree in military science and 19 years as an officer," he said. "How can I throw all that away? What would I say to my father and my friends and my wife to explain that I left as a lieutenant colonel and joined up as a private?"

When American administrators set the national army aside, they left this pool of disgruntled men who say they feel shut out of their nation's future.

"All of us thought that we'd take our places again and help stabilize the situation," Rubaie said. "We see that a lot of American soldiers are being killed. Why? They should let us Iraqis secure the country so the Americans can go back to their bases."

If the old government's soldiers and security agents had been left in place, he was asked, would Iraqi civilians have really believed that Hussein's rule was over?

"Well, they would tolerate it better than they tolerate the Americans," he responded.

Asked if the United States and its allies could really trust their security to members of the army they had defeated, Rubaie said, "They didn't defeat the Iraqi army because the army didn't fight." He added, "We knew we wouldn't win against a modern force."

In July, Rubaie heard that applications were being taken in Baghdad for positions in a new Iraqi army. He said he arrived at the recruiting station at 5 a.m. The application form he was given asked if he had ever worked as a doorman or a plumber and whether he had been convicted of a crime or gone through bankruptcy. It asked nothing about his past military service or training, he said.

Clampdown on Hussein's birthplace

A U.S. soldier guards the gate of the police station in Uja, the village where Saddam Hussein was born, as Iraqis stand in line to obtain ID cards. The soldiers on Friday cordoned off the village in an attempt to identify insurgents, who officials think are funding and planning attacks on U.S. troops.