Friday, July 10, 2009

Iraq's New Dirty War

The Dirty War

Thursday 09 July 2009

by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki looks at the coffins of Harith al-Ubaidi and his brother-in-law. Harith al-Obaidi, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, was shot dead. (Photo: Reuters Pictures)

On Friday, June 12, Harith al-Obaidi, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, was shot dead outside a mosque just minutes after giving a sermon condemning the Maliki government for human rights abuses. Obaidi, who was a leader in the opposition movement against the government and had strong support among both Sunnis and the Shi'ite bloc loyal to the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was a long-time advocate for human rights and a staunch critic of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Only the day before, Obaidi had given a speech in parliament calling for the resignation of top government officials for their ties to human rights abuses in Iraq. In addition, the neighborhood where the mosque he had given the sermon was located had several checkpoints, thus begging the question of how a gunman could have made his way, undetected, to the mosque.

In the wake of this assassination, Maliki has ordered the creation of a committee to investigate the death of this influential human rights advocate. The day after Obaidi was killed, Maliki went so far as to attend his funeral.

Many would consider both these acts to be smokescreens for Maliki's - and possibly even US - complicity. US action in Iraq since the invasion was launched appears to favor the creation of a client state in Iraq along lines similar to those in Egypt, Jordan and Colombia. In any case, one essential element of that equation seems to be military and/or paramilitary forces answerable to, and supporting, the US-backed head of state.

Let's be clear - Maliki has been supported by the US as the leader of Iraq since his installation. In January 2005, I was in Baghdad for the elections that formed an Iraqi Parliament, which then elected Iraq's first prime minister under US occupation - that man was Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Jaafari wasn't exactly toeing the US/UK line in Iraq, so it wasn't long until then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her UK counterpart Jack Straw rushed to Baghdad to set things straight. Just after their visit, Jaafari was out and Maliki was in. No democracy was involved in this process.

In a recent article titled "Iraq's New Death Squad" for The Nation by independent journalist Shane Bauer, we are provided with an inside view of Maliki's iron fist, which has come in the form of the Iraq Special Operations Forces.

Bauer writes:

"The Iraq Special Operations Forces (ISOF) is probably the largest special forces outfit ever built by the United States, and it is free of many of the controls that most governments employ to rein in such lethal forces. The project started in the deserts of Jordan just after the Americans took Baghdad in April 2003. There, the US Army's Special Forces, or Green Berets, trained mostly 18-year-old Iraqis with no prior military experience. The resulting brigade was a Green Beret's dream come true: a deadly, elite, covert unit, fully fitted with American equipment, that would operate for years under US command and be unaccountable to Iraqi ministries and the normal political process. The ISOF is at least 4,564 operatives strong, making it approximately the size of the US Army's own Special Forces in Iraq. Congressional records indicate that there are plans to double the ISOF over the next "several years."

According to Bauer, control of the ISOF was slowly transferred by US Special Forces to the Iraqis in 2007, but it wasn't put under the command of the Defense or Interior Ministry. Rather, "the Americans pressured the Iraqi government to create a new minister-level office called the Counter-Terrorism Bureau," Bauer writes, "Established by a directive from Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, the CTB answers directly to him and commands the ISOF independently of the police and army. According to Maliki's directive, the Iraqi Parliament has no influence over the ISOF and knows little about its mission."

Untold numbers of politically motivated murders have followed as a result. Regular assassinations and detentions of al-Sahwa (US-created Sunni militia that Maliki had opposed from the beginning) members have been ongoing for years. Last August, the ISOF raided the provincial government compound in Diyala, while backed by US Apache helicopters, and arrested a member of Iraq's main Sunni Arab political party. In December, the ISOF arrested more than 30 Interior Ministry officials who were believed to be opponents of Maliki's Dawa Party. In March, the ISOF arrested a leader of the Sahwa.

Michael Knights, a Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute and head of its Iraq program, told Bauer that he believes the Maliki government had developed a "culture of direct control" and the people running the ISOF at regional levels are "personally chosen loyalists or relatives of Maliki. It reminds me of Saddam.... The prime minister is looking for re-election, and there are not that many restraints on his ability to target political opponents, as [his government] has been doing with the Sadrists for years now."

Thus, the stage is set for an indefinite amount of bloodletting across Iraq. A cursory glance at the week from June 6 through June 13 provides several examples of this dirty war. For a dirty war it is, as the opponents of Maliki, and the occupation, and the Sahwa, are sure to respond in kind to any violence visiting them.

On June 8, a gunman was killed while attacking a checkpoint in Fallujah, and on the same day, five "suspects" were captured. The next day, two policemen were wounded during a bombing in Fallujah, a bicycle bomb wounded another seven, and six more "suspects" were detained from around the city. June 10 found police forces in Diyala province, during three different operations, arresting five people "affiliated with armed groups" around Baquba. It is worth remembering that long-time reasons given by the Maliki government for arresting Sahwa members have been that they are "affiliated with armed groups" or for having had taken part in resistance operations against occupation forces. On June 12, two policemen were arrested in Mosul in connection with an attack on Americans in February, while gunmen raided the home of an Iraqi army officer in Balad Ruz, killing his 17-year-old daughter and wounding his wife.

In total, it was another typical week in occupied Iraq, one that found 95 Iraqis killed and another 176 wounded. At least two US soldiers died in Iraq, and another died by hanging himself in the backyard of his childhood home due to not having recovered from having seen "his sergeant blown to pieces. He saw the bodies of half of the men in his platoon torn apart. Heads were cut off and limbs severed."

The US occupation of Iraq has killed as many as 1,320,110 Iraqis and at least 4,312 US soldiers, and as usual, there appears to be no end in sight.


Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq," (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for eight months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last four years.

I also highly recommend this excellent new piece by Professor Michael Schwartz, author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context:

Colonizing Iraq
The Obama Doctrine?
By Michael Schwartz

Here's how reporters Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora of the New York Times described the highly touted American withdrawal from Iraq's cities last week:

"Much of the complicated work of dismantling and removing millions of dollars of equipment from the combat outposts in the city has been done during the dark of night. Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall American commander in Iraq, has ordered that an increasing number of basic operations - transport and re-supply convoys, for example - take place at night, when fewer Iraqis are likely to see that the American withdrawal is not total."

Acting in the dark of night, in fact, seems to catch the nature of American plans for Iraq in a particularly striking way. Last week, despite the death of Michael Jackson, Iraq made it back into the TV news as Iraqis celebrated a highly publicized American military withdrawal from their cities. Fireworks went off; some Iraqis gathered to dance and cheer; the first military parade since Saddam Hussein's day took place (in the fortified Green Zone, the country's ordinary streets still being too dangerous for such things); the U.S. handed back many small bases and outposts; and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed a national holiday - "sovereignty day," he called it.

Continue reading here.

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Dahr Jamail's new book, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now available for pre-order.

Pre-order book here

As one of the first and few unembedded Western journalists to report the truth about how the United States has destroyed, not liberated, Iraqi society in his book Beyond the Green Zone, Jamail now investigates the under-reported but growing antiwar resistance of American GIs. Gathering the stories of these courageous men and women, Jamail shows us that far from "supporting our troops," politicians have betrayed them at every turn. Finally, Jamail shows us that the true heroes of the criminal tragedy of the Iraq War are those brave enough to say no.


US Occupation of Iraq Continues Unabated

Monday 06 July 2009

by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

At Camp Victory, Vice President Joe Biden speaks to soldiers. (Photo: Khalid Mohammed / Reuters)

"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
- George Orwell

On July 4 in Baghdad, Vice President Joe Biden, who campaigned with Barack Obama on a platform of ending the occupation of Iraq, found himself in one of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's lavish buildings, the Al-Faw Palace. While one of Saddam Hussein's thrones sat on the side of the room, Biden presided over a swearing-in ceremony for 237 soldiers, who were becoming US citizens. Speaking of the ceremony, Biden said, "We did it in Saddam's palace, and I can think of nothing better. That S.O.B. is rolling over in his grave right now." Perhaps the irony of both the scene and his statement were lost to Biden. For if Saddam Hussein was rolling in his grave, the reason would have less to do with one of his palaces being used as a naturalization center for US soldiers, and more to do with the fact that the US government has no intention of withdrawing from Iraq anytime soon.

We have passed the June 30 deadline that, according to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on November 17, 2008, was the date all US forces were to have been withdrawn from all of Iraq's cities. Today, however, there are at least 134,000 US soldiers in Iraq - a number barely lower than the number that were there in 2003. In addition, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified on June 9 that the United States would maintain an average of at least 100,000 troops in Iraq through fiscal year 2010.

The SOFA is a sieve, and the number of US military personnel in Iraq is remaining largely intact for now. Add to the 134,000 US soldiers almost the exact number of military contractors (132,610 and increasing), 36,061 of which, according to a recent Department of Defense report, are US citizens.

While the military and most corporate media would like you to believe that from now on no US soldiers will step foot in Iraqi cities, US military patrols in them are ongoing and will continue.

In addition, there has been an assumption that all US military bases within Iraqi city limits would be moved. For example, US Army Forward Operating Base Falcon, home to 3,000 US troops, is clearly within the city limits of Baghdad. But US military officials, working with Iraqis in the US-supported Iraqi government, have other ideas. "We and the Iraqis decided it wasn't in the city," a military official told the Christian Science Monitor. Thus, city lines are redrawn, to the convenience of the US military, to render certain bases and forward operating bases "outside" of Iraqi cities.

While military commanders claim to have handed over 142 military outposts around Iraq to the Iraqis, US troops will continue to occupy 320 other outposts around Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Democratically controlled Congress just passed a war-spending bill that allocated over $100 billion more for the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military (and military contractors) in Iraq is busily expanding and augmenting new bases in rural areas of Iraq. In fact, they are even building new bases in Iraq.

Furthermore, at least 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq until at least the end of 2011, despite the fact that, according to the SOFA, all US "combat" forces will leave Iraq by December 31, 2011.

A July 30 referendum vote on the SOFA is scheduled to take place in Iraq. Despite attempts by the Obama administration to postpone the referendum, it appears as though the vote will take place. Considering the fact that according to recent polls, 73 percent of Iraqis oppose the presence of US forces, the referendum, if legitimate, will put the Obama administrations long-term plans for Iraq in jeopardy as the vote could force US forces out of Iraq as they would no longer be under the legal "protection" of the SOFA.

Although we can only speculate as to whether the referendum will actually reflect the will of the Iraqi people, there will be one of two outcomes:

1. Due to Kurdish and Sunni opposition to the withdrawal of US forces, Maliki postpones the referendum. The US, which is also interested in maintaining the SOFA, supports Maliki in the delay they (Obama administration) have previously pushed for.

2. The Maliki regime overcomes this opposition and does not interfere with the carrying out of the vote or the results of the referendum, which will most likely reflect the will of the Iraqi people to have US forces withdraw from Iraq completely. This would mean the Maliki regime does not want US forces to remain in Iraq, feels strong enough to finally stand on its own and is prepared to settle scores with the formerly US-backed Sahwa forces (Sunni militia), to establish absolute control in Baghdad.

Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that Iraq is further down the road of Balkanization, a plan that Biden has supported for years -to have Iraq split into three rump states. There is already evidence for this - for as Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan have been forced to return home due to funding to support them having been cut due to the Maliki regime pressuring hosting countries, as well as the UN, to have them return. Those returning have been unable to return to their homes. Instead, they are being forced to relocate to either Sunni or Shia areas. Moreover, the Iraqi government has been making no effort to help them return to their original homes, which indicates the Maliki regime is interested in supporting the Balkanization of Iraq.

Nevertheless, again we find the US policy of long-term, indefinite occupation of Iraq to be at loggerheads with the will of the vast majority of the Iraqi people.

From June 28 to July 5, at least 82 Iraqis were killed and 225 wounded, which amounts to another typical week of US occupation of their country. Let us watch how the Obama administration reacts to the referendum at the end of this month, since President Obama is clearly not interested in withdrawing from Iraq anymore than he is interested in a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq," (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for eight months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last four years.

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