Time To End The Dirty War In Iraq By Tom Hayden

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Hayden

A new stage for the peace movement

Under current law, the Leahy amendment of 1997, US security assistance is prohibited to foreign security forces “against whom exist credible allegations of gross human rights.” The Bush Administration refuses to enforce the Leahy Amendment, citing “extraordinary circumstances.” But nothing prevents the Congress from suspending or cutting off funds for the training and equipping of Iraqi units that violate human rights.

Congress should open hearings into the evidence of a “dirty war” unfolding in Iraq.

One reputable think tank, the Center for American Progress [CAP] has concluded that the “arming, equipping, and training of Iraq’s security forces” should be phased out as rapidly as possible. [June, 2007 report].In this scenario, all US troops would be extracted from Iraq’s civil wars by the end of 2008. The continuing problems of humanitarian crisis, security breakdown, failed reconstruction and reconciliation would be taken up by an international effort approved by a new United Nations mandate as soon as possible.


The US occupation has installed a majority Shi’a-Kurdish governing coalition whose ministries and security forces are filled with religious extremists who routinely violate human rights standards. In addition, the US is supporting the Sunni insurgents in their battles with al-Qaeda in Anbar and Diyala provinces, thus engaging American troops on several sides of sectarian warfare.

The dirty war is increasingly recognized by expert observers, including the United Nations human rights agency and the Iraq Study Group [Dec. 2006], which found 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]

Even the White House “benchmark assessment report” of July 12, 2007, admits the continuing nature of the problem:

“there continues to be evidence of sectarian bias in the appointment of senior military and police commanders…” [p. 16].

“There is evidence of target lists emanating from the Office of the Commander in Chief [which reports directly to the Prime Minister] that bypassed operational commanders and directed lower-level intelligence officers and commanders to make arrests, primarily of Sunnis…”

“There remains a negative political influence at a variety of levels with evidence of sectarian behavior.”

“Left on their own, many ISF units still tend to gravitate to old habits of sectarianism when applying the law.”

“There have been inadequate efforts to detain some senior Ministry of Interior officials believed responsible for human rights abuses.” [p.18]

“…evenhandedness across the ISF is patchy…”

It must be noted that this evidence of sectarian abuse appears in a report designed to support the current Administration’s military strategy.

Yet until recently the established consensus of anti-war critics in both political parties, as well as the Baker-Hamilton group, that tens of thousands of American military advisers should remain in Iraq if and when combat troops are withdrawn. The stated purpose of these advisers would be to enhance the professional fighting capacity of the Iraqi security forces, now numbering over 350,000. Though little-mentioned, the strategy is “Iraqization”, modeled on the “Vietnamization” policies pursued to their disastrous end by President Nixon in the final years of the Vietnam War. The American advisers in particular are implementing the so-called “El Salvador option” of fueling and abetting a brutal sectarian war while sharply reducing US casualties.

The key intellectual architect of the divide-and-conquer counterinsurgency policies is Stephen Biddle, currently an adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad. In a 2006 Foreign Affairs article, Biddle advocated threatening both sides of the sectarian war. He proposed giving the Shi’a and Kurds more fixed-wing ground-attack aircraft, armed helicopters, and APCs to increase their capacity to “commit mass violence against the Sunnis dramatically”, writing that “threatening such a change could provide an important incentive for the Sunnis to compromise [their withdrawal demand].” At the same time, he advocated “a US threat to cease backing the Shiites, coupled with a program to arm the Sunnis overtly or in semi-clandestine way” in order to “substantially reduce the Shiite’s military prospects.”

The ethical issues involved in the dirty war strategy are dismissed by General Martin Dempsey, overall head of the training of Iraqi security forces. On Dec. 13, 2005, Dempsey told ABC News that “we are fighting in a very harsh environment…these guys are not fighting on the streets of Bayonne, New Jersey.” Dempsey was defending coerced confessions as an acceptable cultural practice for Iraqis, according to the ABC account.

The Iraqi national security minister, Sherwan Walli, directs a Shi’a-controlled intelligence apparatus outside the jurisdiction of the official national adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie. Walli’s agents are involved in arrests and detentions; according to one government advisor, “it’s a very sensitive and important topic. I don’t think it’s a gargantuan death squad or cleansing squad, but they are definitely some people who are operating in that gray area between intelligence and policing and doing things without full…legal sanctions.” [LAT, 7/20/07]

Little is known about the shadowy US military advisors currently serving in Iraq. Their numbers are estimated at between 3,000 and 8,000 according to expert studies, not including countless private contractors. They operate under the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq [MNSTC-I], whose mission includes everything from the development to the training, equipping and mentoring of the Iraqi ministries of the interior and defense. One of the key advisory groups is the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, which trains, equips, organizes and mentors the Department of the Interior, an agency riddled with human rights violators.

The former leader of the pro-Iranian and sectarian Badr Brigade, Bayan Jabr, was in charge of the Interior Ministry in Nov. 2005 when secret bunkers and torture chambers were discovered in Baghdad. Badr directed a Special Interrogations unit. There were at least ten “unofficial” jails in Baghdad operated by these special units, holding many of the country’s 29,000 inmates detained without legal basis. [see NYT, Nov. 17, 2005]

US officials claimed in Mar. 2006 that they “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 then under the Interior Ministry, “nearly all accused of tortures and illegal killings”, were 126,500 at the time. [NYT, Mar. 7, 2006]

Severe US abuse of Iraqi detainees has occurred since 2004 at sites like the “black room” at Camp Nama, headquarters of the secret Task Force 6-26 near the Baghdad airport. The 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 Camp California.

Ret. General James Steele, who worked with paramilitaries in Honduras, was the chief advisor to the Iraqi security forces and police in his role with the Civil Police Assistance Training Team. He was quoted in 2006 as “not regretting their creation” but believing that the units had ground out of control. [NYT, May 22, 2006].

Baghdad, once an evenly-divided city, is being subjected to the ethnic cleansing of its Sunni population. “District by District, Shiites Remake Iraq’s Capital in Their Own Image”, NYT headline, Dec. 23, 2006]. Only one of the 51 members of Baghdad’s governing council is Sunni, the rest being newly-empowered Shi’a.

Forty thousand Baghdad Sunni residents have been forcibly uprooted and relocated to Falluja, where they stand in a parking lot surrounded by razor wire while they are hand-searched, given retinal scans, provided ID’s or sent directly into detention. [LAT, Jan. 4, 2007]. For further detail, see the Human Rights Report of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Nov. 1…