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Iraqi army division gives up fight

Analyst: Soldiers had low morale, poor record

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Iraqi soldiers from the 51st Mechanized Infantry Division surrender Friday to U.S. troops.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq's 51st Mechanized Infantry Division -- a regular army unit deployed in southern Iraq -- surrendered Friday to U.S. troops or just gave up the fight, Pentagon officials said.

The division's top commander and deputy surrendered as the U.S.-led invasion headed toward Basra, officials said. The division had been defending Iraq's southern border.

Pentagon officials called the surrender the most significant to date.

Although it was not known how many troops surrendered and how many drifted into the countryside, an Iraqi army division typically contains 8,000-10,000 troops.

CNN analyst Ken Pollack, a former Iraqi military analyst for the CIA, said the surrender was not a surprise because the division has had poor morale for years. He said the soldiers had little pay and were outfitted with antiquated, Soviet-era equipment.

The surrender was likely to have little impact on Saddam Hussein, Pollack said, because the Iraqi leader had not expected the 51st or other regular army divisions to put up much of a fight.

Yet Pollack said the surrender could trigger nearby units that are equally demoralized to give up.

The 51st Mechanized Infantry Division was formed toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War from three independent armored brigades.

Pollack said it participated in battles where chemical weapons were used, though it was not clear whether the 51st launched those attacks.

"It was never a very good division," Pollack said. "It did not fight particularly well against Iran at the end of the Iran-Iraq War.

"It was one of the last Iraqi heavy divisions deployed to Kuwait for the [Persian] Gulf War and was left in a quiet sector of the theater. As a result, it saw no combat during the Gulf War and fled en masse when Saddam gave the retreat order."

During the past 11 years, it has been stationed in far southern Iraq, mostly guarding the border with Iran near Basra, Pollack said. Its equipment includes Soviet-era T-55 tanks, armored personnel carriers and Russian towed artillery.


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