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U.S. commanders don't seem especially bothered by the notion that large numbers of Republican Guard have escaped alive. "Many of them may, in fact, go home and rejoin society without any issues," Army Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations on the Joint Staff, said last month. Brigadier General Brooks has acknowledged that some members of the Republican Guard may return as guerrillas to harass U.S. troops. "We don't think all that's going to just disappear," he said, "but there's no way to account for how many made the decision to just walk off the battlefield and never fight again."
Those survivors who spoke to TIME are in anything but a fighting mood. They seem too occupied with absorbing their fate to plot a next move. Says Karim, the colonel: "This is very bitter. I am 39. I was brought up with Saddam's regime. I may not have liked it, but I had plans--to buy a house--and suddenly everything changed. The future is dark." Azed, the captain who ran from Suwayrah, sits in his uncle's house in Baghdad, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea. "What happened shocked everyone," he says. "We had heard about the resistance from the regular forces in Basra, and so we thought that surely the Republican Guard would be even tougher. But we never fought. I am ashamed of what happened," he says, waving a hand in front of his face as if to wipe away the memory. --With reporting by Brian Bennett/Baghdad, Jim Lacey/Hillah, Simon Robinson/Kut, Mark Thompson/Washington and Michael Weisskopf/Mahmudiyah