Death Squads

Digby has been talking about the fact that the US probably trained Shia death squads. Her particular article is from a year ago, but my take is that the accelerating use of death squads dates from Negroponte’s appointment. This is what I wrote just before his appointment, in April 2004, and while parts are wrong, the core holds up well:

The suggested appointment of Negroponte tells you what you need to know. Here’s how it will probably play out. When US will build up its proxies in Iraq and then ”œturn over” power to them. These proxies will position themselves (and are doing so) as mild Islamicists and will us nationalist rhetoric and mild anti-Americanism in their speech. (See Stirling’s Blood Sports and The Fox of Baghdad for information on these people and their specific tactical maneuvers).

They will undercut other factions support through the use of death squads. Their loyal troops will be armed with American weapons, most specifically, helicopters ”“ the weapon most suited to putting down urban insurrections and they will use those troops to battle their opponents. They will get the intelligence they need through informers, through American mastery of electronic intelligence, and through the widespread use of torture and intimidation of enemies by threatening their families.

The problem, of course, is that they’ve lost control of the death squads. Or… have they? People get all worked up about ethnic cleansing (as they should) but in this sort of warfare it’s very effective – if you know the Sunni insurection’s base of support is in Sunni neighbourhoods then getting rid of Sunni neighbourhoods in your strongholds – whether through straight cleansing or by example killings, makes perfect military sense. As Mao pointed out – guerillas swim amongst the people like fish in water – remove the water and they are easily dealt with or must themselves flee.

And if you ethnic cleanse the Sunnis out of all the areas where they aren’t the majority, conveniently enough you also cleanse them out of all the areas with oil. Neat, eh?

More after the Jump

And terror, for ethnic cleansing, is the point. It’s also the point when you’re trying to convince people not to cooperate with the insurgency. Win/Win. So torturing people before they die – in ways that are visible after death – like drilling holes in them, again, makes perfect sense.

Once you’ve cleansed the Sunnis out of your areas, they’re much more defensible. And if Iraq walks down a partition route, that’s what you want. If it doesn’t go down the partition route, and you manage to control the Sunni areas, the fact that they are all together makes it easier to bomb them and punish them when necessary. Just like Saddam, on occasion, you can assume that everyone in the village or town is your enemy, kill’em all and let Allah sort them out.

I expect to continue to see terror from all sides in this civil war. And when the US leaves I expect to see an Indian partition style bloodbath as the remaining Sunnis, Shia and Kurds make a break for safe areas and are cut down in the streets in their tens, perhaps even hundreds, of thousands.

Not only does it make military sense, but because hatred has been inflamed so high and because there is no armed faction who has both the ability and interest to protect minorities, it is virtually inevitable.

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Ian Welsh

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  • …now filtering out into public view cite sectarian violence (i.e., death squads) as the single biggest and most intractable impediment to what tattered remains there are of the American programme in Iraq, I’m pretty damned certain that their rise wasn’t a deliberate plan. If it had been a deliberate plan, it’d have gone big right from the start – that’s how this sort of tactic can actually put a lid on things, and there’s enough “guys in the basement” that have seen the actual application of the strategy to know that (not least, the Iraqis know this – remember all that commentary of about a year ago from the Iraqi government bitching about how the US wouldn’t let them take the gloves off – that notion’s what that was about); gradualist approaches of the types that we’ve seen would be avoided as a deliberate strategy, because they have exactly the consequences that we’re seeing (i.e., they make the problem worse, not better).

    By the time the Americans leave, I’m guessing there won’t be an India-partition style bloodbath. That’ll be done – it’s happening before your eyes in slow motion and may well be getting towards the back half of things right now, near as I can see. The scale of the population movements in Baghdad is much bigger than people know from the journalistic coverage, and from what I hear in various trade outlets, pretty much all the Sunnis in the South have bugged out. There’s something like half a million Iraqis (mostly Sunni) in Jordan and hundreds of thousands in each of a number of other countries. Part of the reason for this is that these guys actually know the history of Partition better than we do – they’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends.

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • I’m quite sure it was a deliberate plan to use death squads against the Sunnis actually. You don’t put Negroponte into the position you did, if you intend to do anything else. And death squads often did work just fine in the Latin American countries where the US is used to assisting against insurrections. (Well, if you take a very loose definion of “just fine” as meaning “did manage to terrorize the opposition enough for the government backed by the US to stay in power.”)

    Of course, controlling death squads once they’re running is rather difficult, as you point out – but I don’t think either of us thinks the US has been very farsighted about most of what they’ve done in Iraq – why would death squads be any different?

    If the cleansing is all done by the time the US leaves, then yes, obviously there won’t be an Indian partition style bloodbath. I guess I’m more optimistic than you are about when US troops are leaving. However pessimism is probably wiser in this regard. I hope you’re right that most of them will be out by then.

  • …other than worldview?

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • January 9, 2007
    Managing Escalation: Negroponte and Bush’s New Iraq Team
    by Dahr Jamail

    As part of a massive staff shakeup of Bush’s Iraq team last week, it was announced that John Negroponte, the current U.S. National Intelligence Director who has also conveniently served as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005 is being tapped as the new Deputy Secretary of State.

    It is a move taking place at roughly the same time when Mr. Bush is to announce his new strategy for Iraq, which most expect entails an escalation of as many as 20,000 troops, if not more. Bush has already begun preparations to replace ranking military commanders with those who will be more supportive of his escalation.

    The top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, will likely be replaced by Adm. William Fallon, currently the top U.S. commander in the Pacific. Gen. George Casey, currently the chief general in Iraq, would be replaced by Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who headed the failed effort to train Iraqi security forces. Thus, those not in favor of adding more fuel to the raging fire are to be replaced with those who are happy to oblige.

    Former NSA director and veteran of over 25 years in intelligence, retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell who happens to be an old friend of Dick Cheney (who personally intervened on his old buddy’s behalf) will succeed Negroponte as national intelligence director. McConnell, willing to oblige his neocon pal Cheney, may prove more hawkish regarding Iran than Negroponte was.

    The timing of this move is what should raise eyebrows, and for two main reasons. First, Negroponte is relieved of his job of intelligence director as the drums of war continue to be pounded by the die-hard neocons, and Negroponte wasn’t playing quite loud enough to the Tehran tune. McConnell may well be able to carry a louder tune for his pal Cheney, which may come in the form of a sonata of manufactured intel to justify an attack on Iran, which is important since time is growing short for Cheney and Co.

    Second and more immediate, the transfer of Negroponte into the State Department comes conveniently just as the announcement of the escalation of troops in Iraq is planned. Bush needs someone with experience in managing escalations and he needs look no further than this man. It is Negroponte who oversaw the implementation of the “Salvador Option” in Iraq, as it was referred to in Newsweek in January 2005.

    Under the “Salvador Option,” Negroponte had assistance from his colleague from his days in Central America during the 1980’s, Ret. Col James Steele. Steele, whose title in Baghdad was Counselor for Iraqi Security Forces supervised the selection and training of members of the Badr Organization and Mehdi Army, the two largest Shi’ite militias in Iraq, in order to target the leadership and support networks of a primarily Sunni resistance.

    Planned or not, these death squads promptly spiraled out of control to become the leading cause of death in Iraq. Intentional or not, the scores of tortured, mutilated bodies which turn up on the streets of Baghdad each day are generated by the death squads whose impetus was John Negroponte. And it is this U.S.-backed sectarian violence which largely led to the hell-disaster that Iraq is today.

    Under Reagan, Negroponte was the U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980’s where he played a major role in U.S. efforts to topple the Nicaraguan government. The political history of John Negroponte shows a man who has had a career bent toward generating civilian death and widespread human rights abuses, and promoting sectarian and ethnic violence.


  • Go through to the link to Digby. And read the article Candy put below.

    Nothing to do with “world view” – has to do with 6 years of observing the Bush administration and understanding their world view, competency, and so on.

    Thinking the Bush administraiton wouldn’t do something because it’s stupid, is actually not very smart. That’s bad reasoning when dealing with this US administration. And my statement to that effect is based on observation and reasoning – not world view. They’re screwups, they’ve screwed pretty much everything up in Iraq including making the most bone stupid mistakes possible – why would you think the guys who think it’s ok to torture, ok to have gulags, etc… would have any compunctions about death squads? And why would you think they would be smart enough to understand that death squads could spiral out of control?

    Seriously, as DSquared said before the invasion – what significant policy matter (not political, policy) has the Bush administration ever completed competently?

  • …have been smart enough to infiltrate the police and ministry of the interior themselves in pursuit of their own objectives. Those danged ‘mericans must have done it – puzzling really, they’re not smart enough to have more than about 6 people in country at any one time who actually speak Arabic well enough to get anything done, but they’re sly enough to get all those Iraqis lined up into death squads.

    It’s ironic actually – Negroponte and Steele both tried to undercut the Badr Brigade and the Jaysh al-Mahdi and here they are billed as deliberately using them. Me, personally, I look more to Bayan Jabr Solagh than to either of those guys. (One might also ask why, if death squads were US policy, they worked to remove Jabr and replace him with Jawad Bolani.)

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • …with worldview filling in the lacunae left from not knowing how to interpret what folks inside the 5-sided puzzle palace say. This:

    one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers,

    in Pentagon-speak does not mean “death squads” – death squads, particularly on the scale that we see presently are big; this proposal is small. What this is is a proposal for a small, focussed version akin to “Phoenix-lite”. It’s an indigenous version of something akin to Task Force 145 – sending guys in to hit high-value targets in the Sunni insurgent infrastructure – back in early ’05 they thought that this sort of crap would actually make a difference. The stuff that we’re seeing along ethnic cleansing lines now is quite different.

    Thinking that the Bush administration is behind everything and systematically de-emphasizing the role of every other possible factor – that’s worldview. Absolutely they’re stupid and absolutely they make bad policy and worse decisions, but to systematically utterly ignore the role of everyone but them in your zeal to make those fuckers pay is to bill political rhetoric as analysis.

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • that there were duelling (and maybe multiple) chains of command in the Iraqi desert, working to separate agendas driven by different ideologies, sometimes working to cross purposes, occasionally collaborating and occasionally knifing each other in the back.

    My hypothesis is that there were some coherent units of various size operating there from 2003 onwards, their logistical support likely buried in the seethe of contractors, taking orders and reporting back via their own communications links. Units that weren’t under CENTCOM’s control (whether they were told about them or not I’m certain they would have become aware of them) but directly operated by the Boy Geniuses at the White House, or by a very short chain of cutouts. The reason for this would naturally be to take actions that CENTCOM could not be persuaded to see the brilliant overarching strategic insight of. Or couldn’t be trusted with the secret of; from their POV, CENTCOM might be trustworthy with military secrets but not domestic political ones.

    If that hypothesis is true (and evidence for that is obviously going to be indirect and circumstantial) then trying to discern “policy” when summing their actions with CENTCOM’s would present real challenges.

  • …some units running around in al-Anbar on their own missions with a somewhat distinct chain of command (because there clearly were – Special Operations Task Force 145 [under various designations] would fit that bill), but because those unit(s) had their hands full with other work. TF 145 spent most of its time hunting Zarqawi’s people and hitting high value targets in the mainline Sunni resistance infrastructure, but that’s a lot different thing than laying the groundwork for and supporting sectarian death squads. These things are first and foremost an Iraqi phenomenon, created and controlled by the various factions competing for the spoil that Iraq has become – the United States bears responsibility for creating the environment in which they flourished and for being utterly inept in their attempts to counter them, but that’s a much different matter. I think Juan Cole has the developmental trajectory about right in his coincidental post of today:

    We should be clear why these bombings are taking place. It is because Bush’s policy in Iraq was total victory, along with his Shiite and Kurdish allies, over the previously dominant Sunni Arabs. Bush did this thing as a zero sum game, one where there is only one pie and if one person gets a bigger piece, someone else gets a tiny sliver. The Sunni Arabs– among the best educated and most capable people in the country– were offered the tiny sliver. They won’t accept US troops in their country for the most part, and won’t accept reduction to a small powerless minority. They have succeeded in provoking the Shiites to form guerrilla groups and engage in reprisal killings, as well, as a way of destabilizing the country. Bush’s allies won’t share power and wealth with them, and Bush himself keeps pushing for what he calls “victory.” Today is what his victory looks like after nearly 4 years, and it is highly unlikely to look different any time soon.

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • and their hand-picked Maliki have given Sadr the green light to clean Sunni’s out of Iraq. They have replaced Saddam with Sadr.

    And I also think the reason for the ships off Iran is they want to ensure that Iran doesn’t aid Sadr when then tell him he has to obey his new masters. Whether Sadr is aware of this I don’t know…but if he wants to stay alive, he will temporarily fold.

    What this administration never takes into account is that occupying troops, do have to leave at some point in time. All Sadr has to do is pretend he’s their partner in crime. George Washington knew that a frontal assault on better trained troops was suicide. The thing to do…he bided his time and eventually his insurgents were able to show England they would not give up. England withdrew its troops and the United States was born. Ditto…Sadr is clever enought to have read history books and know that he has the fate of Iraq in his pocket.

    Whether he will be able to control his army is questionable. Every man, woman and child in Iraq is now so beaten up that all they will think about is their own hide. They could easily turn on Sadr just as easily as they could kill American troops. Shiites far outnumber Sunni’s–it’s very high risk, and most likely a stupid move!!! But they’ve tried every thing else–they’ve been there years now! Bush desperately does not want to admit failure.

    If Bush is successful at quelling the violence, Sadr will be the new dictator in Iraq. Bush is clutching at straws–he doesn’t give a rat’s petooty if Sadr is a dictator as long as he gets to pass his mess off to the next President.

  • … I’ve long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the “Ledeen Doctrine.” I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That’s at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I’ve ever heard, by the way).

    ( … Link … )

    Not suggesting Jonah makes policy, or even Ledeen – although Ledeen’s closer to where the rubber hits the road.

    When your worldview is contaminated with that line of “reasoning”, you make very bad judgement calls. Sometimes logic only goes so far because it assumes people act logically.

  • …escapes me. The US must be behind the death squads because Michael Ledeen is a very bad man with very dumb big ideas? That and the fact that two guys who had previously been US decision makers in a country where death squads figured prominently came to be US decision makers in Iraq, where death squads also came to figure prominently?

    I would suggest that while logic can only go so far, it goes a great deal further than anything that I have seen put forward here as evidence in support of any US sponsored and controlled death squad theory.

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • work, has the administration enraged what’s left of the Sunnis and made the Shiites furious too? That’s one way of uniting Iraq.

    Read the rest of Juan Cole He notes a joint American-Iraqi (apparently American-led–see the picture) force invaded the offices of the elected provincial council of Wasit in the Shiite South and arrested two elected members of the council. They took away Qasim al-A’raji and Fadil Jasim Abu al-Tayyib without making any announcement of the charges.

    This is sort of as though in the US, federal troops attacked the South Carolina State House and arrested the elected secretary of state and treasurer.


    Escher…there is no logic unless you’re a neocon, with all plans that go awry.



    It may not have been deliberate, but that was the end result.

    All they can hope for now is they can box Sadr in, so Bush can declare his victory. And in a way, he did. He reduced the population of Sunni’s in Iraq–most wealthy ones left and are now living in other countries.

  • No, you’re right in not seeing a link; that wasn’t meant to be evidence in support of the “Salvador option” theory, merely a barometer of a certain mindset which achieved a degree of influence, the only arguable point being “how much?”.

    Those dogs are usually kept out by taller fences than the Bush regime used.

  • that the Bush Administration is responsible for creating Shia Death Squads. The speculation appears to be based on the fact that Negroponte was one of the principal’s engineering U.S. policy in Central America in the 80s, and that Negroponte has now been a principal engineer of current U.S. policy in Iraq. All agree I think that there is no actual evidence whatsoever that the U.S. formed the death squads in Iraq.

    The salient points are that: (1) but for the U.S. intervention in Iraq, this Sunni-Shiite civil war and attendant ethnic cleansing would not have occurred; and (2) the prospects for such an outcome prior to the invasion were not exactly a state secret (e.g., even from within his Administration Bush was warned: “You break it, you own it”).

  • Analysis Last Updated: Jan 17th, 2007 – 00:50:00


    Bush escalates war against Sunnis — al-Sadr wins again!
    By Nicolas J S Davies
    Online Journal Contributing Writer

    Jan 17, 2007, 00:46

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    Like its predecessors, the new American campaign in Baghdad is billed as an effort to “restore security,” targeting both Sunni resistance and Shiite militias. In reality, even George Bush is not reckless enough to open a second urban combat front against the Mehdi Army in Sadr City. Instead, the U.S. escalation plan perpetuates the failed policy of taking on the Sunnis first and leaving the Shiite opposition for later. This can only continue to strengthen Muqtada al-Sadr and Shiite opposition to the U.S. occupation.

    In April 2005, the United States launched its campaign to “secure” Baghdad, using Iraqi Interior Ministry forces comprised mainly of Badr Brigades militiamen to launch a campaign of terror against predominantly Sunni neighborhoods on the West bank of the Tigris. These forces had been trained under the supervision of Iran-Contra figure James Steele, who was sent to Iraq as counselor for Iraqi Security Forces to U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, and they soon left a trail of thousands of tortured corpses from Baghdad to the Iranian border.

    This brutal policy failed spectacularly to destroy Sunni resistance in Baghdad. In some ways though, the sectarian hatred and mistrust that it spread throughout the city served its purpose, as Shiites within and without the U.S.-trained “security” forces found reason to join the terror campaign against the Sunni population. But the goal of destroying the resistance was not met — indeed, the Sunni resistance in western Baghdad only became stronger and better organized.

    As Americans were reading in horror that the Baghdad morgue was overwhelmed with tortured, disfigured corpses, and the U.N. Human Rights Monitor issued a scathing report in September 2005, American officials joined the chorus of disgust at these atrocities, but claimed that this was all the work of “insurgents” who were obtaining police uniforms on the black market.

    Eventually, though, these denials were unsustainable. Steven Casteel, the senior advisor to the interior minister, who had been instrumental in launching this policy and then protecting it by obfuscation, was quietly brought back to the United States. The new line in American rhetoric was to deplore the “sectarian violence” it had unleashed, and, increasingly, to identify the death squads with Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army rather than the U.S.-trained Badr commandos working for the Interior Ministry, who were always the principal American weapon in this campaign.

    Faced with the failure of this policy and ever stronger Sunni resistance, American policymakers might have been expected to try something different. Instead, in early 2006, U.S. forces began to provide greater direct ground and air support for the Shiite forces attacking Sunni enclaves in Baghdad. American support for this campaign has increased progressively with each newly announced operation: Together Forward; Together Forward II; do they dare call the new one Together Forward III?

    The public relations exercises linked to these operations have repeatedly promised Americans at home that U.S. forces are targeting both Sunni “insurgents” and Shiite militias. The implication is that, whatever the details of the original “Salvador Option,” as Newsweek called it, local Iraqis are now responsible for the “sectarian violence” gripping the capital, and U.S. forces are intervening to restore law and order to protect people of all sects.

    American soldiers in Baghdad know perfectly well that they are fighting Sunnis, alongside Shiite forces with strong ties to militias, but the Western media have consistently failed to challenge the new American narrative. The Iraq Study Group acknowledged a 43 percent increase in violence in Baghdad in the course of the first two Operation Together Forwards, but attributed this to an inadequate effort to restore law and order, rather than a deliberate American escalation of the dirty war.

    Like the previous fictional narrative of “insurgents disguised as police commandos,” the new narrative of even-handed law enforcement has worn so thin that it has become transparent. Yet once again the American response has only been to escalate its public relations efforts along with the violence. American officials now sound so determined to take on the Shiite militias that Iraqi Shiite officials have had to come out and publicly reassure their supporters that the Americans don’t really mean it!

    Finally, Monday, a U.S. military spokesman acknowledged what all Sunni Iraqis in Baghdad know only too well. Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl told a McClatchy reporter, “We’re not necessarily going after the militias if the militias don’t come after us. Our mission is not to take down the militias; that’s a function of the government.”

    Lt. Col. Bleichwehl neglected to mention that the “government” has appointed a Shiite general from Amara to lead this campaign. Amara was one of Muqtada al-Sadr’s first bases of support following the U.S. and British invasion. Britain suffered its worst casualties of the war there, and eventually declared victory and handed the whole province over to local officials allied with al-Sadr. The news that a general from Amara is going to lead the anti-militia campaign in Baghdad is all the reassurance the militias need that they have nothing to worry about, and was probably al-Sadr’s price for approving the new plan.

    So, if they’re not going after the Shiite militias, what are the new U.S. forces going to do in Baghdad, and what will be the result?

    There are three main forces vying for power in Iraq, the nationalist Sunni resistance, nationalist Shiite forces grouped around Muqtada al-Sadr, and American government and commercial interests with weak, usually self-serving, support from a small group of privileged former exiles in the Green Zone. The Kurds have no interest in challenging the other Iraqi groups in Baghdad, but will assist the Americans at a price, and the pro-Iranian SCIRI Party is also cooperating militarily with the Americans, while waiting for an opportunity to pick up the pieces of a broken Iraq at some point in the future with Iranian assistance.

    The American strategy is and has always been to wage war almost exclusively against the Sunnis, knowing that this means leaving Sadr and the Shiite nationalists for later. When Bush uses the expression that “progress has been slow,” which sounds like an odd characterization of this crisis, this is what he is referring to. In fact, progress has been so slow that, while the Americans and the Sunnis battled away in Anbar and the American-backed death squads fought the Sunni resistance in Baghdad, Muqtada al-Sadr has had plenty of time to consolidate his position as the de facto leader of Shiites all over the country.

    So, the new American-Shiite assault on the Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad will just be an escalation of a campaign that has been under way since April 2005. In assessing its chances for success on these terms, it is worth noting that the total number of resistance and militia attacks per day in Iraq has more than tripled since this campaign was launched in 2005, with most of the increase taking place in Baghdad, and there is no reason to believe that this new escalation will suddenly have the opposite effect. The only way to succeed on these terms would be to achieve some sort of total victory over the Sunnis, which no serious analysts consider possible. This operation can therefore only be viewed as a desperate gamble for an unachievable victory, employing even greater violence than we have seen to date.

    The response of Muqtada al-Sadr and his allies to the announcement of this escalation has been interesting. He has wisely ordered Mehdi militiamen in Sadr City to take off their traditional black uniforms, hide their weapons and do nothing to provide a pretext for a U.S. attack on Sadr City. As they have done up until now, his followers will keep a low profile and consolidate their position, while their two main competitors for power in Iraq, the Sunnis and the Americans continue to kill each other. Mehdi militiamen within the U.S.-backed Iraqi Army and Interior Ministry will of course continue to participate in the bloodletting alongside their American “allies.”

    In effect, both the Americans and the Shiite nationalists are doing a deal with the devil — each other. Neither of them wants the other to end up as the victor in Iraq, but both are content to tolerate and use the other as long as they are both fighting the Sunnis. If the Americans declared war on al-Sadr, they would have to fight almost the whole population, Shiite and Sunni. And if al-Sadr unleashed his forces against the Americans, he could probably end the occupation, but only at the expense of a cataclysmic escalation of the war in which hundreds of thousands of his people would be killed.

    But this mutual deal with the devil is a safer and much more productive policy for Sadr than for the Americans, as it appears to offer him a path to eventual victory. He has done much to earn the overwhelming support of the Shiite population by steering a careful path between armed resistance and collaboration for almost four years, and he has no reason to change course. The Americans, on the other hand, have worked themselves into a corner from which they can’t defeat the Sunnis, but their options are increasingly constrained by the political reality of Sadr’s power. This mutual deal with the devil has worked entirely in his favor, and there is nothing in the present plans that will change that.

    For a real plan to actually end the war in Iraq, check out Congressmember Dennis Kucinich’s plan. It may not be realistic in every detail, but it is at least a plan that correctly identifies the responsibilities of the United States as the aggressor in this conflict and the necessary steps the U.S. government must take to give peace a chance: to withdraw its forces; restore Iraqi sovereignty; agree to pay reparations; and allow the international community to assist the people of Iraq in a legitimate process of reconciliation and reconstruction.

  • but this op-ed piece above by Davies seems to overlook that, when the U.S. first invaded Iraq, there was very little reason to fight with the Shiites (although the U.S. did try and take on al-Sadr in Najaf in 04 if I can recall). Am I not correct that, from the beginning of the war, most of the resistance was coming from the Sunni population because the Sunni minority that ruled the country had the most to lose from the American occupation? In short, to me it is not so profound that most of the fighting throughout the war has been against various and substantial elements of the Sunni population. Is the U.S. capable of looking the other way while ethnic cleansing is going on? I think yes. But does the U.S. stand to gain anything from an Iraq that is ruled by a Shiite population that is hostile to its Sunni neighbors and presumptively friendly to Iran? I think the answer is clearly no.

    I just think that all signs point to an incredibly poorly thought-out analysis of what would happen if we invaded Iraq, an analysis that was in any event short-circuited by petty political considerations on the part of the Bush Administration. To me, the Iraqi invasion is the biggest foreign policy blunder in American history, and I hope that American political leaders will begin to genuinely focus on what the hell we can do about it.

  • …seems to omit the potential role of the other entity involved in training the Badr Brigade/Organization and the effect that loyalties there might have. Other than that, I think I could pretty much get behind the reading of things presented above – but it’s a pretty big “that”.

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • All agree I think that there is no actual evidence whatsoever that the U.S. formed the death squads in Iraq.

    The US, beyond any dispute, formed the units they were found in, and it’s also beyond any dispute that the US trained and supplied these units; I think that’s pretty much both self-admitted and exhaustively documented.

    There is no doubt that in the most literal, factual sense the US formed and trained and supplied forces such as the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which then spawned the death squads.

    What we’re instead debating here is whether or not the appearance of the death squads found within those American-formed, American-trained, American-supplied units is intentional covert American policy – or just an unintentional and horrifying byproduct of the appalling failure of application of other policies.

    I cannot agree with the statement that there is “no actual evidence whatsoever”, but I could agree instead with the statement that the evidence for them having done so is circumstantial.

  • I just think that all signs point to an incredibly poorly thought-out analysis of what would happen if we invaded Iraq, an analysis that was in any event short-circuited by petty political considerations on the part of the Bush Administration.

  • “I cannot agree with the statement that there is “no actual evidence whatsoever”, but I could agree instead with the statement that the evidence for them having done so is circumstantial.”

    Duly noted.

  • It remains to be seen in my opinion whether it breaks or blossoms:-)

    “at some point I’m hopeful I’ll figure out something to put here”

  • other that you speak of is a foregone conclusion. It’s US involvement that is worrisome.

    The evidence is circumstantial, but wasn’t there a president at one time that a plaque on this desk that read, “The buck stops here.” Someone has to take responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs. All I see is obstruction, denial, aggressive presidential power grabs, dismissal of legitimate legislative powers, political appointments to important offices, billions of dollars unaccounted for, an ongoing loss of life, service personnel’s coffins hidden from the public’s view, nuts…I could ramble for weeks at all the things that I hardly recognize as being America before 9/11. That event should not have completely changed the United States…but it has and it continues. Each day, there is some new outrage.

    I am glad there are American ships in the gulf that will help to prevent other from making the conflict worse in Iraq, but it is very disconcerting to think that other holds the key and no-one will engage them in dialogue! The burner under the kettle has been light, and someone needs to turn it down, preferably, OFF, before it boils over.

  • I would like to think this is bull, but it wouldn’t surprise me if its true

    Iran shoots down U.S. spy drone amid growing military pressure 2007-01-17 08:41:25

    Special report: Iran Nuclear Crisis

    by Liang Youchang

    TEHRAN, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) — Iranian troops have shot down a U.S. pilotless spy plane recently, an Iranian lawmaker announced on Tuesday as the Islamic Republic was facing increasing military pressure from its arch rival — the United States.

    The aircraft was brought down when it was trying to cross the borders “during the last few days,” Seyed Nezam Mola Hoveizeh, a member of the parliament, was quoted by the local Fars News Agency as saying.

    The lawmaker gave no exact date of the shooting-down or any other details about the incident, but he said that “the United States sent such spy drones to the region every now and then.”

  • …wouldn’t be worrisome? Sorry, but I tend to disagree.

    The President that the buck stopped with was, IIRC, Harry Truman. I agree that administrations need take responsibility for their actions – however, I also think that using America as a target to the exclusion of holding other parties responsible for their actions is short sighted, to put it mildly.

    As to US policy vis-a-vis Iran, it would be difficult for me to agree more – that said, there are many, many parties that are guilty for the debacle that is US-Iran dis-relations. A sustained low to moderate level of conflict is highly useful for significant constituencies in both countries (and beyond).

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • …to improve quality of interpretation. What he’s extensively footnoted is that this sort of violence is widespread – the nut of the argument is what it means and who’s motivating it, and for that, near as I can see, he still has nothing but the same Negroponte/Steele axis.

    His interpretation seems to come down to this:

    Discounting Al-Qaida and Zarqawi in Iraq as fabrications designed for easy media consumption (Centre for Research on Globalisation), we are left with a situation in which someone is targeting Shias, mainly through the planting of bombs around mosques and at religious ceremonies, and someone is targeting Sunnis, mainly through extrajudicial executions carried out by parties that look a lot like the police but have become linked with the Shiite Badr Brigade in the popular imagination. It is impossible that the Iraqi resistance could account for this pandemic of fratricidal violence, whatever Adnan Thabit might say about insurgents in police uniforms. It is equally impossible that SCIRI and the Badr Brigade could account for much of it in a milieu dominated by CIA assets and US military forces. What is possible is that both sides of the apparent sectarian violence are run as part of a huge CIA-lead intelligence operation designed to split Iraq at the seams.

    i.e., it couldn’t possibly be all those other guys and therefore it must be the CIA

    All those things that he thinks are impossible? Based on what I’ve seen coming out of Iraq over the past years, far too possible.

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • by Andrew Cockburn:

    Iraq may be getting close to what Americans call “the Saigon moment”, the time when it becomes evident to all that the government is expiring. “They say that the killings and kidnappings are being carried out by men in police uniforms and with police vehicles,” the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said to me with a despairing laugh this summer. “But everybody in Baghdad knows that the killers and kidnappers are real policemen.”

  • but again I don’t get it. Must be the Boobus Americanus in me ;-). Citations aside (practicing attorney here who could write lots about footnotes), Fuller’s thesis appears to be that Anglo-American intelligence services have duped almost every media outlet worldwide, and the Iraqis themselves, into not seeing what he sees–a typical imperialist ruse to colonize and control an Iraq weakened through divide into separate ethnic fiefdoms. Underlying Fuller’s thesis is that there is no such thing as a sectarian divide between Shiites and Sunnis, and of course he supports this thesis by citing to a single article discussing how, before the war, Shiites and Sunnis were neighbors in a cetain Iraqi village.

    Quite a thesis, but judging by what’s happening in Iraq, with an American policy that couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle, I submit that we can’t be that good and that bad at the same time–unless of course, the chaos is all by the design of the CIA, etc., and then here we go roun’ the mulberry bush!

    I don’t question that oil has played a big role in what the U.S. has done in Iraq for one second. I would also submit that Americans, and not just our government, bear a heavy responsibility for what has transpired in Iraq. But I’ll leave it to folks like Fuller to point the finger of blame at the U.S. for every transgression in Iraq (and elsewhere), for every suicide bomb, every tortured former neighbor, and every murdered shopkeeper, just because it’s “possible” that the U.S. could have done this or could have done that.

  • and his plan? If Im not mistaken Zellikow was employed by the State Department when he made up that report. He did not work in a vacuum and must have believed his ideas were not out to lunch!

    My summary of Zellikow’s ideas: Support the Shiites and the Kurds and abandon the Sunnis to militias in Iraq.

    So far,…Sadr’s militia is ignored. He told his militia to take off their black uniforms and lay low ’til the coast was clear to begin killing Sunnis again. Maliki wouldn’t dare attack Sadr’s militia, because he needs Sadr’s support to keep his job.

    Time will tell if the United States supports only Shiites and Kurds. It’s possible that the violence in Iraq may preclude 3rd parties from any nation to materially influence the amount of bloodletting that is taking place.


  • (and yes, I agree that merely stacking facts in an impressive fashion is indeed a far less impressive feat than actually getting it right or wrong), you chose something to emphasize something that makes me wonder what am I missing.

    It is impossible that the Iraqi resistance could account for this pandemic of fratricidal violence, whatever Adnan Thabit might say about insurgents in police uniforms

    I thought this was pretty much the case. Did solid evidence (we’ve now set the bar higher than “circumstantial” evidence) ever emerge to support the hypothesis that some significant part of the death squads actually were “Iraqi resistance” disguised as police (in 2005 “Iraqi resistance” was pretty much being sold as synonymous with “al Zarqawi/al Qaeda in Iraq”)?

    They actually did turn out to be government troops in the end. So that’s actually a statement that mapped fairly well onto reality, isn’t it? Or am I missing something?

  • I’ve followed this topic fairly closely at my own blog (Needlenose) and wrote two years ago about the emergence of government-affiliated Iraqi militias in the wake of the Newsweek “Salvador option” article (see here and here).

    But what most of you, including Ian, are missing is this: All that happened when our guy, Iyad Allawi, was prime minister. If the Americans were pulling all the strings in Iraq, he still would be. (Well, actually, Ahmad Chalabi would be — even Allawi was a fallback choice.) But he isn’t.

    When the UIA (the religious Shiite slate) took power in 2005, they looked at the “special police commando” units whose creation we’d blessed and said, “Very nice — now step aside, and let us show you how to do it.” They kept the names of the units, installed their own commanders, and shifted the brutality into overdrive.

    The Bushites’ hands are very dirty, but the fact is that the death squads in Iraq have been out of their control for almost two years now. The notion that the U.S. is orchestrating all of the carnage there needs to get placed in the same obsolete conspiracy-theory pile as “Karl Rove is an evil mastermind who will make sure the GOP doesn’t lose in 2006.”

  • Anyone with any fidelity to the data accepts that government forces are in this up to their frickin’ eyeballs, as a matter of political policy. My problem with the use of “impossible” is that it implies that false-flagging is not occurring, particularly given how he elides on with the notion to hang everything on the fictitious CIA. False-flagging clearly is going on (and lots of it – some of it Shia, some of it Sunni) – is it as prevalent as the Iraqi government would have us believe? Hell no, but that doesn’t mean that one should discount it entirely and it certainly doesn’t mean that one can use that as a data point to buttress the notion that someone else (i.e., the CIA) must be doing it.

    The real problem with this interpretation of events seems to me to be that the Iraqi government is equated with the United States – any policy carried out by any element of the Iraqi government, is therefore the policy of the United States. The problems with this view of things are legion. Hell, I don’t think there even is such a thing as the “Iraqi government” – there are individual ministries which are essentially spoils of war and are being used as more or less coherent tiny platforms from which power is projected and greater state power jockeyed and vied for. When you’ve gotten to the point that people are talking about death squad activity associated with the ministry of Health (Muqtada take a bow) the notion that there is an actual discernable government, let alone one that one can reliably equate with an external power, has taken a pretty major hit.

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

  • …the real question is “how”. One thing that I’d like to have tatooed on the forehead of every American Enterprise Fellow in tiny, but readable, type is this:

    Although democratic aspirations and concepts in one society can inspire democratic quest in another, on the whole democracy is not a self-contained set of ideas that can be imported from the outside and implemented; it is not divorced from the historical context of a polity” – Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr, Democracy in Iran

    Maybe we could do it like the warnings on a pack of cigs – “Surgeon General’s Warning:” then the quote, then something to the effect of “Don’t buy anything this guy tries to sell you.”

    “At this moment, therefore, two distinct myths emerged, fuelled by the trauma of a shared experience and amplified by the existence of a hungry mass media eager to disseminate images of the world’s first televised revolution.” – Ali Ansari

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