About 130 fresh Iraqi troops from the country's Kurdish north flew into Baghdad on Sunday to join the fight for the nation's capital — with the promise of a $200 bonus, nearly a month's pay.
The mostly Kurdish soldiers — the first to arrive from the northern city of Irbil — were greeted by Iraqi commanders as they filed off the gray C-130 troop transport. They wore camouflage, with machine guns or rocket-propelled grenade launchers slung over their shoulders. Many carried belongings in plastic bags.
The troops represented a fraction of the expected influx of some 8,000 Iraqi reinforcements from the north, the Shiite south and the insurgent stronghold of Anbar province west of Baghdad.
Capt. Amir Wali, a 29-year-old former Kurdish guerrilla who has been integrated into the army, agreed. "I was glad to come here," he told reporters after the ceremony. "We came to defend Baghdad against terrorists."
The Iraqi troops were the first to be brought to the capital in an aircraft piloted by Iraqis, the military said, touting it as a sign the Iraqis are making strides toward taking over their own security.
Gen. Babaker Shawkat Zebari, the army chief of staff, stressed unity in the armed forces, addressing concerns the Kurdish troops might resent being called to Baghdad because they feel more loyalty to their homeland.
"Baghdad is a beautiful city that desperately needs your help," Zebari, himself a Kurd, said in Arabic after welcoming the troops in Kurdish. "If the terrorists are defeated here, all of Iraq will get back on its feet."
A brigade from Sulaimaniyah, also in the Kurdish north, has reached Baghdad, but it is only 1,000-men strong, not the expected 3,000.
"Instead of depending on the friendly forces to move such units, now the transportation is done by Iraqi planes. This is a historic event," Ghadan said.