Wednesday, November 28, 2007

American-backed Death Squads in Iraq

The Reagan Era Death Squads Surface Again, This Time In Iraq. Which Ones are on "Our Side"? Good Question.
Submitted by mark karlin on Wed, 11/28/2007 - 6:39am.
Buzzflash Editor's Blog
Mark Karlin, Editor and Publisher, BuzzFlash.comNovember 28, 2007

You can excuse BuzzFlash for being confused sometimes as to what militias in Iraq the Bush Administration is currently backing. After all, Bush reportedly didn’t even know there was a difference between Shiites and Sunnis until well after the Iraq War started, so cut us some slack.
We do know this, as we read about new killings in Iraq, we just have to wonder which death squads the White House is arming and aiding.
That is why we don’t necessarily follow the conventional wisdom that a recent slaughter of 11 family members (including 7 children) of a "troublesome" Iraqi journalist in Jordan was the work of the Muqtada al Sadr Mahdi army.Curiously, McClatchy news service (providing the most reliable mainstream news out of Iraq), notes: "Iraqi police and U.S. military officials said they had no record of the killings. But family members confirmed that the killings took place on Sunday." The news report also notes, "It was the third mass killing reported in Baghdad since Friday, underscoring the fragility of recent declines in violence."
We have to remember that many key members of the Bush Administration past and present – including Elliot Abrams, John Negroponte, and Otto Reich (now a "consultant") – were key advocates and enablers of the Central and South American "death squad" strategy during the Reagan years.
It is more than likely that their views – and the outlook of the Cheney wing -- on such tactics have not changed, and that many of the masked men running around killing targeted Iraqis and family members – as well as pesky journalists -- are being financed and supplied by the United States. The trick is figuring out which ones are "ours," and which ones are home grown insurgents (who are still managing to come up with U.S. weaponry, some speculate supplied by sympathetic members of the Iraqi Police and army.) Giving the shifting alliances of the ever-shifting Bush non-strategy, the death squads that they support today may be the ones that they have our soldiers battling tomorrow – or just killing each other.
The Sunday Times of London took a crack at sorting out the White House backed-mayhem in a November 25th article entitled, "American-backed killer militias strut across Iraq." Right now, The Times speculates, the Petraeus strategy is to back the Sunni militias as a counterweight to the allegedly Iranian aligned Mahdi Army.
But what is curious about that is that in the first Gulf War, Bush the First championed the liberation of the same Shiites that the White House is now demonizing. Of course, a Bush being a Bush, Bush the First urged the Shiites to rise up against the Sunni Saddam rule, only to abandon thousands upon thousands of them to be slaughtered by Hussein as Poppy Bush refused to protect the same people he was exhorting to take on Saddam.
Needless to say, Iraq remains a powder keg, as the Sunday Times article indicates, because the death squad policies of the Bush Administration (which, of course, you don’t hear about at Pentagon or White House briefings) are inevitably setting up all sides against the middle.
Bush is doing what he always does: what is most expedient to save his butt.
In the end, he is creating a Somalia style nation of warlord enclaves, each with their own militias.
The death squad strategy was the pride and joy of the neo-cons who cut their teeth in the Reagan Administration. If Blackwater can get away with murder, don’t you think that death squads operating with U.S. military and CIA support can carry out dirty deeds with impunity?
We just can never figure out, given our government’s deception on this issue, which death squads are on "our side."
You need to know who the "good bad guys" are, right?


American-backed killer militias strut across Iraq
From The Sunday Times
November 25, 2007
Hala Jaber, Baghdad

IT WAS 9.30am when three men entered Haidar Musa’s sweet-shop and shot him repeatedly in the head as his eight-year-old daughter Zainab crouched in terror behind the counter.
By midday his stricken wife Kahiriya had packed Zainab and four other children into a car with a few possessions and fled their home town of Abu Ghraib for a life of penury in Baghdad, 20 miles to the east.
Eighteen months later, the six of them are living in a room that measures 12ft by 12ft, with a concrete floor. Its contents include a cooking pot, a sewing machine and thin sponge mattresses because this is their kitchen, sitting room and bedroom.
Asked when she intended to leave this squalor and return to the comfortable family home, Kahiriya Musa, 30, is emphatic. “Never,” she declares. “They will kill me if I return.”
While one of her husband’s killers has been arrested, she says, the other two have joined the Baghdad Brigade, a Sunni militia funded by the American forces which now holds sway in her old neighbourhood.
Members of the Baghdad Brigade receive $300 a man each month from the Americans, who also provide vehicles, uniforms and flak jackets. In return the brigade keeps out Al-Qaeda, dismantles roadside bombs and patrols the area, a task performed with considerable swagger by many of its 4,000 recruits.
The US military is delighted with the results achieved by the brigade in Abu Ghraib and by similar groups in other former “hot spots” of sectarian conflict that have seen a sharp decline in violence.
For Shi’ites such as Kahiriya Musa, however, a Sunni militia represents another potential source of terror in a country where millions have been traumatised by ethnic cleansing.
A 50% cut in car and roadside bombs, shootings and rocket and mortar attacks since June has brought hope that some of the 5m Iraqis driven from home may soon be able to go back. Yet many – Kahiriya Musa among them – are too frightened of the new militias and the ethnic cleansers in their ranks to risk moving.
Officials in the Shi’ite-led government also fear the burgeoning of fresh forces beyond its control. The question being asked in government circles is: have the Americans achieved a short-term gain in security at a cost of long-term pain that may be inflicted by the Sunni militias, which are already threatening to go to war against their Shi’ite counterparts?
The western province of Anbar first witnessed the phenomenon known as “the awakening” – the turning of Sunni tribes against the largely foreign fighters of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
For General David Petraeus, the American commander, the awakening has proved a powerful force with which to increase the impact of his surge of 30,000 US troops earlier this year.
By allying the US forces with Sunnis opposed to Al-Qaeda, the general has engineered victories over the brutal foreign fighters that seemed almost unimaginable 12 months ago.
US-backed Sunni militias have spread eastwards from Anbar across Baghdad. They already number 77,000, known collectively as “concerned local citizens”. This is more than the Shi’ite Mahdi Army and nearly half the number in the Iraqi army.
Exotically named groups such as the Knights of Ameriya and the Guardians of Ghazaliya strut the streets in camouflage uniforms, brandishing new AK47s that the Americans say they have not supplied.
Last week I entered the western Baghdad district of Ameriya by crossing check-points manned by the eager “knights”. Not only had some of them been members of groups aligned with Al-Qaeda eight weeks ago, but they had now created a virtual enclave surrounded by concrete blast walls.
To be among them without fear of kidnap was to sense the transformation of security in a place that was being torn apart by fighting only last August.
Some wore sinister masks, however, and observers are asking how long it will be before they turn on their Shi’ite counterparts when the Americans start reducing their troops next year.
Sergeant Jack Androski, of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, sees things differently. “Ameriya is the safest neighbourhood in all of Baghdad,” he said as he chewed on a falafel and gazed up the suburb’s main commercial street.
“This didn’t exist in May, We lost 17 soldiers on this main street. We used to be hit at least twice a day here and a 500lb bomb flipped one of our Bradleys [fighting vehicles] over.”
Androski paid tribute to the “bravery and determination” of the knights who helped to see off Al-Qaeda. But even Sunni residents see trouble ahead.
One pointed out former members of the Islamic Army – a group once closely associated with Al-Qaeda, whose atrocities included the murder of Enzo Baldoni, a kidnapped Italian journalist – among the knights.
In an Ameriya school last week some of the knights showed that although they may have switched allegiances, they still hold the fundamentalist beliefs that drew them to Al-Qaeda in the first place.
Carrying their weapons, they went from one class to the next, looking for mobile phones with “unIslamic” ringtones. One child with a pop music ringtone was slapped and kicked in the legs as a warning to the others.
Meanwhile, the targets of ethnic cleansing continue to suffer. Habib Haji, a 65-year-old widower from Sab al-Boor, north of the capital, received a letter giving him three days to leave with his daughter Salwa, 15, or die.
“I left immediately,” said Haji, whose 18-year-old son Mehdi had already disappeared after going out to buy some cigarettes.
According to Haji, the death threat came from men who used to be Al-Qaeda members but now form part of the awakening. Even the militia commanders confirm that they have the Shi’ites in their long-range sights after a turbulent few months.
First they tired of Al-Qaeda’s beheadings, bombings and strange demands, such as a ban on salads containing (male) cucumbers and (female) tomatoes, and on ice cubes because the Prophet Muhammad never had them.
Then the militias threw in their lot with the Americans to get rid of Al-Qaeda, but without losing their animosity for the occupying forces that many of them had been fighting.
Now they are starting to think about what happens when the Americans leave and how they can counter Iranian-backed Shi’ite forces. Abu Omar, an intelligence officer with the Baghdad Brigade in Abu Ghraib, was candid.
“Of course the coming war is with the [Shi’ite] militias,” he said. “God willing, we will defeat them and get rid of them just as we did Al-Qaeda.”
Abu Maroof, one of the brigade’s commanders, said that he regarded the Shi’ite militias, which include the Mahdi Army of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, as more dangerous than the United States. But he is also increasingly hostile to the government of Nouri al-Maliki, which is reluctant to absorb militia members into the official Iraqi security forces.
“If the government continues to reject them, let it be clear that this brigade will eventually take its revenge,” he warned.
It is little wonder that Shi’ite sheikhs have been queueing up this month to air their worries about the Sunni militias to Ahmad Chalabi, a former deputy prime minister who is now in charge of reconstruction and who straddles the sectarian divide.
“Many of the groups in the awakening are the same men who used to kill and displace our people,” one protested. “Any return of refugees is near impossible if this is not resolved.”
Chalabi has come to an accommodation with the Sunni sheikhs of Sab al-Boor, where Haji and his daughter lived: they will get better services – electricity, schools, factories reopened to create jobs – if they guarantee security for 100,000 refugees to return home from temporary shelter in Baghdad.
Several hundred families have already trickled back and their fate will be anxiously monitored. If Sab al-Boor seems safe, thousands more will follow.
Many others dread to think what the Sunni militias will do if the government refuses to have them in the security forces and the Americans leave them to their own devices.
Kahiriya Musa, for one, intends to keep her family close by in the hovel with the concrete floor: “I am afraid for my life and the lives of my children.”

The U.S.-backed "dirty war" in Iraq drops its mask
By Swopa
May 1 2005 - 12:41pm

Remember the controversy when Newsweek wrote in January that the U.S. was thinking about supporting a "Salvador option" in Iraq? Remember a month later, when the Wall Street Journal wrote about "pop-up militias" there, which I promptly surmised might be the "Salvador option" put into motion?Well, today Peter Maass has a massive report in the New York Times Magazine that essentially confirms this. Here's his account of visiting the head of the Special Police Commandos death squad militia described by the WSJ as "catching the American military by surprise":
Adnan's office was a hive of conversation, phone calls and tea-drinking. Along with a dozen commandos, there were several American advisers in the room, including James Steele, one of the United States military's top experts on counterinsurgency. Steele honed his tactics leading a Special Forces mission in El Salvador during that country's brutal civil war in the 1980's. Steele's presence was a sign not only of the commandos' crucial role in the American counterinsurgency strategy but also of his close relationship with Adnan. . . . As part of President Reagan's policy of supporting anti-Communist forces [in El Salvador in the 1980s], hundreds of millions of dollars in United States aid was funneled to the Salvadoran Army, and a team of 55 Special Forces advisers, led for several years by Jim Steele, trained front-line battalions that were accused of significant human rights abuses.Maass goes on to describe the U.S. role in the death squad militia's creation:
. . having been a key participant in the Salvador conflict, Steele knows how to organize a counterinsurgency campaign that is led by local forces. He is not the only American in Iraq with such experience: the senior U.S. adviser in the Ministry of Interior, which has operational control over the commandos, is Steve Casteel, a former top official in the Drug Enforcement Administration who spent much of his professional life immersed in the drug wars of Latin America. . . . Last summer, with the security situation deteriorating, some Iraqi and American officials began to argue that the time had passed for a ''clean hands'' policy that rejected most of the experienced people who had fought for Saddam Hussein. The first official to take action was Falah al-Naqib, interior minister under the interim government of Ayad Allawi. In September, Naqib formed his own regiment, the Special Police Commandos, drawn from veterans of Hussein's special forces and the Republican Guard. As its leader, he chose General Adnan, not only because Adnan had a useful collection of colleagues from Iraq's military and security networks, but also because Adnan is Naqib's uncle.. . . The American who was most involved in the commandos' creation was Casteel, Naqib's senior American adviser. Casteel, who previously worked for Paul Bremer in the Coalition Provisional Authority, realized that the de-Baathification policy had to be altered and that Naqib was the person to do it.And just to show how closely tied to the Allawi regime the commandos were, it turns out that Gen. Adnan is the mastermind behind the surreality TV shows that feature "confessions" from torture victims supposed terrorists. Maass also shows us a hint of how complicit the U.S is in the commandos' familiarly Saddam-esque methods, going on a joint raid backed up by American troops led by a captain named Bennett:
The officer in charge of the raid -- a Major Falah -- now made it clear that he believed the detainee had led them on a wild-goose chase. The detainee was sitting at the side of a commando truck; I was 10 feet away, beside Bennett and four G.I.'s. One of Falah's captains began beating the detainee. Instead of a quick hit or slap, we now saw and heard a sustained series of blows. We heard the sound of the captain's fists and boots on the detainee's body, and we heard the detainee's pained grunts as he received his punishment without resistance. It was a dockyard mugging. Bennett turned his back to face away from the violence, joining his soldiers in staring uncomfortably at the ground in silence. The blows continued for a minute or so.A similar situation occurs on another raid that Maass observes:
On March 8, I went on a series of raids with the commandos, traveling in a Humvee with Maj. Robert Rooker, an artillery officer based in Tikrit who was dispatched to Samarra to serve as my escort. . . . The target was a house outside Samarra where Najim al-Takhi, thought to be the leader of an insurgent cell, was believed to be hiding.The commandos reached an isolated farmhouse and detained al-Takhi's son, who looked to be in his early 20's. This was an excellent catch. The son of a suspect usually knows where the suspect is hiding; if not, he can be detained and used as a bargaining chip to persuade the father to surrender. . . . The captain pushed him against a mud wall and told everyone else to move away. Standing less than 10 feet from the young man, the captain aimed his AK-47 at him and clicked off the safety latch. He was threatening to kill him. I was close enough to catch some of the dialogue on my digital recorder. . . . Major Rooker was just a few feet from the angry captain. He moved closer and nudged the captain's AK-47 toward the ground.''You are a professional soldier,'' Rooker told him. ''You know and I know that you need to put the weapon down.''. . . As the commandos pulled their prisoner away, Lieutenant Johansen conferred with Rooker. ''They don't operate the way we do, that's for damn sure,'' Johansen said. ''We have to be nice to people.'' Especially in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, they both knew that threatening a prisoner with death ... was illegal under the Geneva Conventions.Actually, the bitter punch line here is that taking a wanted man's son hostage is probably a violation of the Geneva Conventions, too -- which just shows how badly our troops' collective sense of right and wrong has been scrambled amid the nightmare they've been forced to endure.Another sign comes when Maass's Dante-esque journey takes him to a "detention center" run by the commandos:
We walked through the entrance gates of the center and stood, briefly, outside the main hall. Looking through the doors, I saw about 100 detainees squatting on the floor, hands bound behind their backs; most were blindfolded. To my right, outside the doors, a leather-jacketed security official was slapping and kicking a detainee who was sitting on the ground. We went to a room adjacent to the main hall, and as we walked in, a detainee was led out with fresh blood around his nose. The room had enough space for a couple of desks and chairs; one desk had bloodstains running down its side. . . .A few minutes after the interview started, a man began screaming in the main hall, drowning out the Saudi's voice. ''Allah!'' he shouted. ''Allah! Allah!'' It was not an ecstatic cry; it was chilling, like the screams of a madman, or of someone being driven mad. ''Allah!'' he yelled again and again. The shouts were too loud to ignore. Steele left the room to find out what was happening. When returned, the shouts had ceased. But soon, through the window behind me, I could hear the sounds of someone vomiting, coming from an area where other detainees were being held, at the side of the building.. . . One afternoon as I was standing near City Hall, I heard a gunshot from within or behind the detention center. In previous days, I saw or heard, on several occasions, accidental shots by commandos -- their weapons discipline was far from perfect -- so I assumed it was another negligent discharge. But within a minute or so, there was another shot from the same place -- inside or behind the detention center.There are caveats throughout the article that, of course, the U.S. isn't really condoning any of this brutality, much less pursuing it as an intentional policy. And yet, all of the above incidents occurred in the presence of American military officers and a U.S. civilian journalist. As Maass notes more than once, the worst atrocities tend to occur out of sight ... and even the Americans who assure Maass that they're doing what they can to restrain the death squad commandos acknowledge that the latter are entirely capable of committing such crimes.Not only that, these are exactly the goons that Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad to personally argue for keeping in the Iraqi military. So, please, spare me the Pollyanna bullshit disingenuous reasoning that we're trying to bring democracy and freedom to the Middle East, with Iraq as a shining example. It never was true, and as our lengthy fight against elections and our current sponsorship of the Special Police Commandos shows, the Bushites would be perfectly happy with a Saddam-free version of Saddamism.

YouTube Videos
Trailer: The Death Squads (Iraq)

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