Training for disaster

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal do report the relevant facts. They always seem to forget to assign the blame, however, when it belongs to the U.S.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Iraqi leaders are going to restructure Baghdad’s security brigades to place all police officers and paramilitary soldiers under a single commander, in an effort to reduce sectarian violence in the city. According to Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, “Baghdad can be secured in one month.”

The U.S. has trained and funded the paramilitaries that carry out the violence.

Despite the absurdity of Talabani’s claim, Baghdad will not be secure in one month. Reducing violence in Baghdad is a necessity, as it is all throughout Iraq. According to figures from Iraq’s ministries of health and interior, sectarian violence killed 952 Iraqis nationwide last month, with 686 of them being civilians killed in politically motivated violence. Many of the corpses were tortured and mutilated, as they often are, and then dumped on city streets to instill fear.

In mid-January 2005, Newsweek reported that the U.S. was considering using exactly these methods to reduce support for the insurgency. Under this plan, called the “Salvador option,” U.S.-trained and funded Iraqi paramilitaries, also referred to as “death squads,” would assassinate fighters the U.S. labels “terrorists,” or kidnap and deliver them to U.S. Special Forces for interrogation, otherwise known as torture. Although it is impossible to carry out a terrorist attack against the armed forces that have invaded one’s country, terrorism being the use of force against civilians (not military personnel) for political or other ends, the U.S. government and media have described such attacks as terrorism to demonize resistance to the occupation.

According to Western polls of Iraqi opinion, 82 percent of all Iraqis, and nearly 100 percent of Sunnis, strongly oppose the occupation. Shortly after the Newsweek article appeared the U.S. did turn to death-squad terror to reduce civilian support for the insurgency, much as the Reagan administration did in El Salvador during the 1980s.

Because of “the problem of broad support for the insurgency,” the article said, one Pentagon source suggested that the U.S. form a climate of terror and “create a fear of aiding the insurgency.” Newsweek’s Pentagon source said, “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”

One month later The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States was already working at forming the paramilitary units to carry out these objectives, with the most important being the Special Police Commandos formed in September 2004. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw the U.S. effort to train and equip Iraqi military units, told The Wall Street Journal, “This was a horse to back,” and said he gave the militia “money to fix up its base and buy vehicles, ammunition, radios and more weapons.”

It is exactly such “Salvador option” paramilitary torture and terror that the former United Nations’ chief in Iraq, John Pace, spoke out against in February. Pace said, based on information provided by the Baghdad Medico-Legal Institute, hundreds of Iraqis are tortured to death or summarily executed each month in Baghdad alone. He said this violence is carried out by Shiite Muslim death squads under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, and that three-fourths of the corpses in Baghdad’s mortuary show evidence of having been shot in the head or having died from injuries caused by drill-bits or burning cigarettes. Human rights groups have made similar claims.

Along with the Iraqis who live through the violence, Americans should be particularly interested in the results of these efforts, as the U.S. struggle to control Iraq has, in a large part, encouraged and even created the sectarian violence.