To Stop the Dirty War

Whether by accident or design, the reality since 2006 is that the Shi'a, with Kurdish approval, are carrying out a sectarian war against the Sunni population with American dollars and trainers.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Why Should American blood and taxes be spent on propping up a sectarian Shi'a state engaged in ethnic cleansing and daily human rights abuses? A time for Congressional hearings

The time has come to understand the new de facto US policy in Iraq: to support, fund, arm and train a sectarian Shi'a-Kurdish state, one engaged in ethnic cleansing, mass detention and murder of Sunni Arabs.

If this description seems harsh, it is only because our minds are crowded with false or outdated paradigms. First was the dream of Baghdad as an exemplary democratic domino. Then the idea of a unitary neo-liberal state with proportional representation and revenue-sharing among Shi'a, Kurds and Sunnis. All along, the US has described itself as a neutral arbiter among warring factions, a promoter of the rule of law and human rights in the Iraqi jungle.

Even as former US ambassador Khalilzad left Baghdad, he was struggling to clinch deals over oil revenue-sharing, reversal of de-Baathification laws, and inclusion of Sunni interests in constitutional reform and local governance. The Shi'a, muttering that Khalilzad was a Sunni apologist, seemed uninterested in anything but window-dressing reforms.

Whether by accident or design, the reality since 2006 is that the Shi'a, with Kurdish approval, are carrying out a sectarian war against the Sunni population with American dollars and trainers.

Critics, commentators and Congressional members concerned about Iraq must shed past illusions to focus on this new reality.

The existing model for ending the Iraq conflict needs to be scrapped for a new one. As promulgated by the Iraq Study Group, the Center for American Progress, the Congressional majority and most of the media, that dubious model is to withdraw American combat troops but leave behind an embedded training force of 10,000 to 20,000 Americans [up from 3,000-4,000 currently. Figures from ISG Report, p. 71] Other American forces, under Congressional proposals, would remain behind to defend US facilities and battle al-Qaeda.

The Pentagon's own estimates, like those of the ISG and reporter James Fallows, show little evidence that the Iraqi security forces will "stand up" anytime soon. Fallows' 2004 essay was titled "Why Iraq Has No Army". Yet Fallows, in a typical mindset, while seeing "no indication that such a force is about to emerge", still concluded that the US should make "very long-term commitments to stay" and train Iraqis. [Fallows, Blind into Baghdad, p. 182, 186]. This same faith-based proposal was echoed by the ISG despite a finding that the Iraqi National Police

routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians...the police are organized under the Ministry of the Interior, which is confronted by corruption and militia infiltration..." [p. 10]

That was at the end of 2006, which was promoted as "the year of the police."

The IRG report at least emphasized that the crisis was more than incompetence, a problem that training might reduce. The larger problem was the sectarian brutality of security forces dominated by Shi'a militias.

In December 2005, a rare analysis indicated that at most seven percent of the Iraqi armed forces were Sunni, despite being twenty percent of the population. [NYT, Dec. 27, 2005]

At the same time, the Interior Ministry was placed in the hands of Bayan Jabr, a leader of the Badr militia, an organ of the Supreme Command of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI]. The commandos and so-called "public order brigades" under the same ministry are from the Shi'a militia.

The notion that the militias are lawless groups outside the state is completely false. The militias are protected by the state, and carry out its sectarian mission. US officials may be discreet in their public statements, but the "El Salvador model" has influenced their planning and appeared in Congressional testimony. If that approach were followed literally, government-backed death squads would be unleashed against suspected insurgent communities, backed by thousands of US advisors or contractors. [LAT, Mar. 12, 2007]

Gen. Petraeus, the counter-insurgency specialist now in charge of all US forces, was involved directly in the creation of the Iraqi "commando teams", a fact never explored at his recent Congressional confirmation hearings.

US officials claimed in March 2006 that they only "recently learned" that 7,700 members of the paramilitary "public order brigades" were all Shi'a. [NYT, Mar. 7, 2006] The total number of paramilitaries under the Interior Ministry, "nearly all accused of tortures and illegal killings", were 126,500 at the time. [NYT, Mar. 7, 2006]

But on Dec. 13, 2005, Gen. Martin Dempsey, in charge of training Iraqi security forces, had told ABC News, "we are fighting in a very harsh environment..these guys are not fighting on the streets of Bayonne, New Jersey." Dempsey was defending forced confessions as an acceptable cultural practice, according to ABC's Elizabeth Vargas' account.

Dempsey was discussing the Iraqi Wolf Brigade, identified by the US State Department as responsible for dragging 36 Sunnis from their homes, shooting them in the heads, and pouring acid on their faces. {NYT, Aug. 24, 2005]

SCIRI's Bayan Jabr was in charge of the Interior Ministry in November 2005 when a secret prison bunker and torture chamber was uncovered in Baghdad with 172 victims inside. He directed a Special Interrogations Unit which reported only to him. There are up to ten "unofficial" jails in Baghdad operated by these special units, holding many of the country's 29,000 inmates detained without any legal basis. [NYT, Nov. 17, 2005. See also UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Human Rights Report, Nov.1-Dec.31, 2006, which reports on "Site Four", where 1,431 detainees gave evidence of "physical and psychological abuse."]

Direct US abuse of Iraqi detainees has occurred since early 2004 at sites like the "black room" at Camp Nama, the headquarters of the secret Task Force 6-26 near the Baghdad airport. The American motto at Camp Nama is "No Blood, No Foul." [NYT, Mar. 19, 2006]. Inmates are beaten, kicked, blindfolded, and forced to crouch in 6-by-8 foot cubicles in a compound called Hotel California. Despite 2003 warnings by military investigators, the right-wing Christian Gen. William Boykin found no misconduct at the site in an official investigation.

BBC television reporter Deborah Davies confirmed on film in November 2006 the widespread patterns of torture and ethnic cleansing in an eyewitness report on the rounding up and killing of Sunni civilians. "It's all happening under the eyes of US commanders, who seem unwilling or unable to intervene", she concluded on a Channel Four report. [BBC, Nov. 7, 2006]

Any media or Congressional investigation of these atrocities should interview James Steele, Gerald Burke and Ann Bertucci, who were attached to the US Civil Police Assistance Training Team in Baghdad. [NYT, May 22, 2006]. Steele, a retired general, was quoted in 2006 as "not regretting their creation" but worried that they had grown out of control. Bertucci admitted that American advisers were attached to the so-called Iraqi Volcano Brigade, later known as the Wolf Brigade. Burke told BBC of his frustration at trying to prevent police kidnappings and murders of Sunnis by the Shi'a units.

Baghdad, once an evenly-balanced city of five million, is being ethnically-cleansed of Sunnis at a rapid rate. "District by district, Shiites remake Iraq's capital in their own image", reported a NY headline on Dec. 23, 2006. Fifty of 51 members of Baghdad's governing council, which controls neighborhood services, are Shi'a. The government's Ministry of Public Works is proposing to take lands from six Sunni towns surrounding Baghdad and turn them over to the Shi'a. [NYT, Dec. 23, 2006] Other officials speak of building networks of dams, highways and security fortifications over previously-Sunni neighborhoods. It is too late to preserve any of the city's mixed neighborhoods, a principle objective of the military surge announced in January. The sectarian die is cast. A March report by the Times' Alissa Rubin described Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods as

"a world of ruined buildings, damaged mosques, streets pitted by mortar shells, uncollected trash and so little electricity that many people have abandoned using refrigerators altogether...

The contrast with Shiite neighborhoods is sharp. Markets there are in full swing, community projects are underway...
[NYT, Mar. 26, 2007]

Forty thousand Baghdad Sunni residents have been forced to relocate in Falluja, where they stand in a parking lot surrounded by razor wire, are hand-searched, given retinal scans, and provided ID's to enter the town or are sent into detention. [LAT, Jan. 4, 2007]

The current escalation or "surge" in Baghdad has worsened conditions significantly. The detention center in Mahmudiya recently held 705 inmates in a space designed for 75. Another on Muthana airbase held 272 in a space for 50. [NYT, Mar. 29, 2007]

In conclusion, it's a dirty war. Typically the explanation is that both sides are savagely killing civilians. That's true, but fails to note that our government, our troops and our taxes are on one side. It is impossible to deny responsibility once the facts are known. Others will claim that we "accidentally" tumbled into this disaster and can't simply walk away. Congressional hearings on this point might prove useful. Clearly, the White House and Pentagon, including the outgoing ambassador, preferred a tidy unitary state to follow after the 2003 invasion. But the role of our clandestine services has not been examined. Are we seeing the unfolding of what's been labeled "Plan B"? Who knows, but a sectarian bloodbath does have its advocates.

For example, according to Laura Rozen in an LA Times op-ed piece, significant elements of the Administration were discussing "unleashing the Shiites" at a secret meeting last November. [LAT, Nov. 16, 2007]. The idea of backing one side was explained as more efficient than trying to mediate a civil war by experts from Harvard's Kennedy School and the Center for Strategic and Military Studies. During the same month, the New York Times opened its op-ed page to a Marine author who advocated unleashing the Iraqi army and police against the Sunnis, in a latter-day revisionist argument that the US should have supported the Saigon dictator Ngo Dinh Diem against the insurgents of his time. [Mark Moyar, Marine Corps University, NYT, Nov. 21, 2006].

So what is to be done?

  • peace advocates and critics must focus on the new reality that American blood and taxes are being spent on propping up a sectarian government that wants to carry out an ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population.
  • that it is most unlikely that this faction of Shi'a [led by Dawa and SCIRI] will ever be content to co-exist and share resources with the Sunnis.
  • That the US global reputation, already ruined by Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, cannot withstand an association with sectarian death squads in a dirty war.
  • That "unleashing the Shiites" will have unknown military and geo-political consequences, including increased advantages for Iran.
  • That the solution is to identify, sharply regulate, or cut all US aid for police training programs, embedded advisors, etc.
  • And clarify that one of the key benchmarks contained in the current supplemental funding proposal is the termination of sectarian control of the Iraqi security forces and prison system.
  • Current "reconciliation" proposals, however weak, are being rejected by al-Maliki's circle. The proposed changes in the de-Baathification orders, for example, allow for re-employment of Sunnis only if they sign a pledge to make no political statements about the government, a form of indentured servitude sure to be rejected. [NYT, Mar. 27, 2006]

The current policies are leading directly to one of the three outcomes already identified in the January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate [NYT, Feb. 3, 2007]: [1] "chaos leading to partition", [2] "emergence of a Shia strongman", or [3] "anarchic fragmentation of power."

There is an alternative to these scenarios. The US needs to begin talks with representatives of the 131 Iraqi parliamentarians who already have signed a call for a US withdrawal deadline, which also is the consistent demand of 75-80 percent of the Iraqi public. There is something deeply troubling about an Administration that refuses to recognize what most Iraqis want, and which instead imposes by force what the White House wants for them. This imperial arrogance makes repression, including ethnic cleansing and secret prisons, a necessary approach to controlling a hostile population.

The US should announce its intention to withdraw, preferably with, but, if necessary, without the al-Maliki government. The announcement of a US withdrawal commitment will diminish the chief cause of violence in Iraq, and serve as a powerful inducement to end the insurgency. Sunnis insurgents, after all, are attacking the Shi'a primarily for being collaborators with the occupation.

A withdrawal announcement also will be an incentive for the Arab Shi'a [for example, the two million sufferers in Sadr City] against the more theocratic and pro-Iranian Shi'a followers of Badr and SCIRI. Of course, the level of sectarian strife will not diminish overnight, and battles with al Qaeda of Mesopotamia will continue. But al Qaeda's support will diminish as the Americans leave.

In short, the problem of sectarian police violence cannot be detached from the Frankenstein state that US policies have fostered in the vacuum after Saddam Hussein. More professional training and human rights seminars will never stop the Shi'a parties from taking their revenge made possible by American money, weapons, and political support. Only a US withdrawal deadline coupled with the urgent diplomatic offensive proposed by the ISG, can possibly save Iraq "from rapid decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political, and security consequences" as forecast in the NIE document.

The Congress should investigate just what kind of regime American troops are being ordered to defend with American dollars. If cutting off tax funding for the overall war is too much for our lawmakers at present, how can they justify the funding of secret prisons, official militias, and the ethnic cleansing of a US-sponsored dirty war? When did that become the authorized mission of our forces in Iraq?

There is a reason the Administration keeps its purposes hidden. A February Washington Post/ABC poll showed that 70% of Americans blamed the Iraqi government, more than the US, for "failing to control the violence." Two-thirds favored cutting off aid to Baghdad if the regime there fails to achieve national unity and civil order. Those numbers spell doom for the US occupation. And without support for a Shi'a-Kurdish sectarian regime, the war could end. #

TOM HAYDEN is the author of Ending the War in Iraq [Akashic, June 2007]. He teaches a course on Iraq at Pitzer College, in Claremont, California.

Go To Homepage

Before You Go

Popular in the Community