MOSUL, Iraq – Enemies only months ago, Iraqi Arabs and Kurds are training together under the Americans to form a new security force to help 101st Airborne Division troops keep the peace in this northern city.
The soldiers in the joint Iraqi security group all volunteered for the program. Some had been members of Iraq's army. Others fought against that army with the minority Kurds (search), long the victims of Saddam's brutality.
"That's what makes it so profound," said Sgt. Michael Saenko, of the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, who is one of the instructors.
The training lasts just a month, but the days are intense and long with physical fitness training, close-order drills and learning how to strip down a weapon.
Some of the program's nine instructors are former drill sergeants, but there's no harsh language or screaming in recruits' faces.
"We'd have to do it through the translator," Saenko said, adding that in-your-face basic training would not build the recruits' confidence. The nine instructors each have a translator.
The goal, said Sgt. Andrew Scarborough, of Monterey Park, Calif., is to have the soldiers work together with American troops. They'll provide security for the 101st's base of operations and if needed fight alongside them if attacked.
"We tell them they're not just guarding Americans, but they're guarding fathers, mothers and brothers and sisters," said Saenko. "They take it very seriously."
The venture has already graduated one company of soldiers, Alpha Company.
Delta Company is days away from completing its basic training. Two more companies will be training in the coming weeks. By the end of the year, 360 Iraqis and Kurds will be graduated.
They have their own uniforms, made in Mosul (search), and carry ranks. Mosul, the country's northernmost big city, 240 miles north of Baghdad, is where U.S. 101st Airborne (search) troops killed Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay, in a gunbattle last week.
Because most of the recruits had military experience, many of the drills are done according to local tradition. The cadences are in Kurdish (search) and the precision stepping is done with boots high, one arm cradling an unloaded AK-47.
"It's a chance to defend our country for our people," said Omar Abdullah, a 26-year-old Arab recruit from Mosul. "It's good to work with the American soldiers. They give us new training and a mutual respect."
Shevin Majid, 22, a former Kurdish fighter, dismissed differences with the Arabs as a problem that only existed between the Saddam regime and the Kurds not between Arabs and Kurds.
"I want to serve a new Iraq," he said.