|Flash Movie||Action||Selected Articles on Iraq|
Scene 1: The Bombing of the mosque in Samarra [play scene]
The bombing of the Askari mosque was a highly professional operation that required many hours of preparation. According to the new Iraqi Construction Minister, demolition charges had been placed within the four supporting stone pillars. Cores had to be drilled into the pillars, which would have taken at least four hours to complete. We are expected to believe this was the work of fundamentalist Sunni insurgents, who managed to perform this task without arousing suspicion or attracting attention. In fact, eyewitnesses claimed the bombing had been carried out by gunmen wearing Police Commando uniforms.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, religious leaders called for calm. Joint demonstrations were organised by representatives of the Sunni and Shiite communities for unity and against sectarianism. According to press reports, some of those who participated in such shows of non-sectarian solidarity were murdered at roadblocks by unknown assassins. One journalist who actually went to Samarra to report on what was taking place, the Iraqi TV reporter Atwar Bahjat, was herself quickly seized by unknown assailants and assassinated along with two colleagues.
Estimates of the number of people who were killed in the week following the bombing of the mosque vary. According to the Washington Post, officials at the Baghdad morgue claimed more than 1300 bodies had been brought to them, figures which apparently tallied approximately with those supplied by the Iraqi police. Most of the victims did not die in mob violence, but were systmatically executed after having been taken from their homes by unknown gunmen. Several reports claimed many of the victims had been apprehended by members of the Mehdi army, a charge vigourously denied by spokesmen for al Sadr.
Significantly, this spike in extrajudicial killings took place under an atmosphere of heightened security, during which roadblocks had been set up all over Baghdad and the city was under curfew. We are expected to believe that sectarian militias were able to operate with impunity under such conditions. When the curfew was lifted the killings returned to their normal (very high) level.
Robert Fisk was one of the first to report the enormous
number of murder victims turning up in the Baghdad morgue, pointing
out that, replicated across Iraq, the number of victims would
start to tally with the estimate made in the contraversial Lancet
Report, which concluded that around 100,000 additional, mostly
violent, civilian deaths had occurred within the first year and
a half of occupation based on standard statistical methods. For
his part in highlighting the number of extrajudicial killings,
the director of the Baghdad Morgue was recently forced to flee the country after receiving
death threats. Current data puts the daily average of killings
at between 60 and more than 100 per day in Baghdad alone, ie some 30,000 per year.
John Pace's accusation that the killings are conducted from the Ministry of the Interior is entirely in accord with every other serious assessment of the ongoing violence in Iraq. For instance, of 3498 victims of extrajudicial killing recorded by the Organisation for Follow-up and Monitoring, 92% were arrestd by officials of the Ministry of the Interior.
Yasser Salihee, who worked for the Knight Ridder news agency, remains probably the only journalist within Iraq to have started seriously investigating the source of widespread extrajudicial executions. His last article was published just days after his own murder and heavily stresses the resonsibility of Iraq's new police commandos. At the time, Salihee was having to deal with ludicrous denials coming out of the Interior Ministry and echoed by Stephen Casteel insisting that the killings were the work of insurgents disguised as policemen. Salihee was undoubtedly influential in dispelling those claims, but we will never know how much further his investigation would have got and what hard evidence he would have produced. Tom Lasseter, who coauthored the report with Salihee, has not continued Salihee's investigation and has accepted the mainstream position of sectarian culpability.
At least two other journalist who had started to look into cases of extrajudicial killings by the security forces have also been murdered. One of them, Stephen Vincent, was working in Basra, where death squad killings are also rampant.
Faced with extensive evidence
that Iraq's new security forces are responsible for at least
a large part of the widespread cases of torture and extrajudicial
execution, our intrepid media has not demanded an explanation
of how institutions created by the US and British occupiers and
under their tutelage could be responsible for such heinous crimes
or to what extent we are involved with them. Instead, it has
blithely and blindly accepted the charge that sectarian militias
have infiltrated the security forces and are conducting an entirely
independent campaign of terror from within the Interior Ministry.
We are expected to believe that US staff within the Ministry
simply throw up their hands in despair as their protegés
run amok! The pattern is consistent right across the Western
media and duplicated in most of the rest of the world. To add
insult to genocide, Iran is freqently held up as being a party
to the killings.
It is important to recognise that the Ministry of Interior was established under the occupation and was headed by an American, Stephen Casteel, until the nomimal transer of sovereignty to the caretaker goverment headed by Ayad Allawi. Under the auspices of the Ministry, several paramilitary-style organisations were established, including various SWAT teams and the Special Police Commandos, which was conceived to provide the Interior Ministry with a strike force capability. These units became operational in late 2004 and saw action in Samarra and Mosul, amongst other locations. Evidence of extrajucial killings was prominent in their wake, well before the Shiite parties came to power and well before anyone had dreamt up the notion of blaming Shiite militias. Human rights violations were witnessed by at least one journalist at a time when some media sources were boasting about the successful establishment of the new units, at the same time revealing the close proximity with which they worked with US special forces 'advisors'.
The Interior Minsistry itself was described by the Observer's Peter Beaumont as 'the centre of the horror' in an article which otherwise obscures the relationship between Iraq's new government and the occupying powers.
Mithcell Prothero's UPI report is remarkable for the detail it provides of gross human rights violations being committed by the new Iraqi SWAT team under the gaze and protection of US forces, and for the remarkable level of apolgetics in what he calls the 'welcome return of frontier style law enforcment'. One of the most telling details included in this account of an Iraqi police raid is the description of intelligence officers operating among the policemen, ticking names off lists as the house to house raids were conducted. The use of lists, corroborated in other reports, demonstrates that raids like these are meticulously planned intelligence operations.
The first two of these remarkable photos were taken by Staff Sgt. Kevin Maries through the telescopic sights of his rifle and are possibly unique as prima facia evidence of gross human rights violations being committed by Interior Ministry personnel. The remaining photos were taken within the Interior Ministry compound after the guardsmen had disarmed the torturers. The guardsmen discovered further detainees inside buildings, where they also found evidence of torture equipment. The photos are availabe at the online photo agency Corbis, but to the best of our knowledge have never been barely published.
The account of this event in the Portland Oregonian makes harrowing reading. It is quite clear that these ordinary US soldiers were deeply shocked by what they discovered taking place within the Interior Ministry and simply could not believe what they were hearing when their superiors ordered them to evacuate the Ministry and leave the detainees in the hands of their abusers. Negotiations are described as continuing for several hours. In the end, the story only came to light because one of the guardsmen, Jarrel Southall, defied orders and issued a written statement to an embedded journalist. Despite the gravity of the incident, it was given almost no attention in the US national media.
One of the most striking aspects of this incident is its similarity to the November 2005 discovery by US forces of a detention centre in the Jadiriyah area of Baghdad. Whilst the account of torture remains consistent, in this more carefully controlled event which received far more media attention, blame was quickly shifted to Shiite militias and sectarian control of the Interior Ministry, despite the fact that the facility, descirbed as an underground torture chamber, was run by the Interior Ministry. To our knowledge, no mainstream media organ (with perhaps the honourable exception of the Morning Star) managed to recall the former incident and our letters to Britain's main broadsheets were ignored.
Asked to comment on the on the earlier event, Stephen Casteel, who just two days before and while the planning was still underway had been the Interior Minister, had this to say: 'There's always a pendulum between freedom and security, and in Middle Eastern culture they've always allowed that pendulum to swing more toward security'.
In a report for New York Times Magazine, Peter Maas reported that Stephen Casteel was a veteran of Latin America's drug wars, having worked in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. In fact, we now know from his bio as a sought-after public speaker that Casteel was involved in Operation Snowcap, a major regional operation that foreshadowed Plan Colombia and the Andean Regional Initiative. Between 1987 and 1995 Operation Snowcap was reponsible for (para)militarising police units in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. In Peru the operation focused on the Upper Huallaga Valley and coincided with a major counter insurgency offensive directed primarily against the Shining Path guerrilla army. Widespread human rights violations inlcuding rape, torture and extrajudicial killing took place. In Bolivia the DEA worked closely with a paramilitary counter narcotics force called UMOPAR, nicknamed the Leopards. Whilst a viscious counter insurgency campaign of the kind in Peru or Colomiba did not break out, UMOPAR was guilty of systematic human rights violations. According to one study, 44% of those arrested in indisciminate sweeps were subjected to beatings or torture. Operation Snowcap had no positive impact on the supply of Cocaine (in fact it went up), and a US Congressional report even found that trucks and boats provided by the US had been used to transport chemical for the processing of cocaine.
Maas also tells us that Casteel participated in the hunt for cocaine baron Pablo Escobar at the start of the 1990s. This was a highly secretive multi-agency intelligence operation involving a surveilance programme known as Centra Spike. Lists of Escobar's associates were held in a vault at the US embassy, but somehow managed to find their way into the hands of a paramilitary death squad called Los Pepes, which proceeded to eliminate the persons on the lists without recourse to judicial process. The work of Los Pepes did not end with the death of Escobar. The death squad became the nucleus for the the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary umbrella organisation that has always worked closely with Colombia's armed forces in its counter insurgency campaign against left wing guerrillas and is responsible for many thousands of killings of peasants, trade unionists and other progressive political activists.
We don't know whether Casteel himself was involved with any of the death squads, but to understand his role as being about counter insurgency rather than counter narcotics makes far more sense of his being chosen to head Iraq's new Interior Ministry. In fact, it is important to understand that the US drug war was actually born as a counter insurgency strategy. In the 1960s it was explicity recognised that police forces formed the first line of defence against internal subversion (ie political forces that did not pursue Washington's agenda). The Office of Public Safety (OPS) was designed to arm and train national police forces against the 'enemy within'. The OPS was disbanded in 1973 when the extent of its involvement with Operation Phoenix in Vietnam was disclosed. The following year saw the budget for counter narcotics escalate 600% and by 1978 every counter narcotics officer in South America was a former agent of the OPS. See Supplying Repression pulished by the Institute for Policy Studies (1981) for more about International Narcotics Control.
We also know from Peter Maas's account that the man selected as the main advisor to the Special Police Commandos was a veteran of El Salvador's genocidal civil war. Throughout the 1980s the US chose to support El Salvador's repressive government against the FMLN guerrillas. Part of this support was to provide small teams of counter insurgency experts to train units of the Salvadoran army. Ex US Colonel James (Jim) Steele served as head of the US Mil Group in 1986. The war in El Salvador is noted for extreme brutality, but Professor Noam Chomsky, the distinguished US foreign policy critic, notes a correlation between bouts of US training and fresh human rights violations. This is hardly unexpected. We now know from declassified counter insurgency training manuals used as the notorious School of the Americas during the 1980s that the US encouraged such techniques as kidnap, torture and summary execution.
The extent of US involvement with El Salvador's death squads has started to come to light. Several former members of the Salvadoran security forces have come forward to talk about their roles and their relationship with US personnel. Whilst US servicemen and intelligence officers generally seem to have maintained a discreet distance from the actual dirty work, there can be no doubt that they were fully cognizant of what was taking place.
The information contained in this scene about selecting brutalised individuals and awarding them special patches actually comes from a US military historian via a US military assessment of US involvement in El Salvador. By the admission of US trainers, small units of the kind Steele trained were able to account for a grossly disproportionate number of fatalities inflicted by the Salvadoran armed forces and, according to military thinkers, were influential in turning the tide of the civil war in favour of the government. It is worth reminding ourselves that the vast majority of the victims of the conflict in El Salvador were not fighters, but consisted of peasants, labour organisers, students, priests and others suspected of working for the interests of the people. The perpetrators of the violence were often paramilitary police units such as the feared Treasury Police, rather than members of the army.
The actual insignia featured belongs to the Atlacatl Brigade which was not only one of the units that received the most extensive US support but which became notrious for having murdered a group of Jesuit priests. Another example of the unit's crimes is recalled in the second image which shows the memorial at the village of El Mozote. The Atlacatl Brigade entered El Mozote on 10 December 1981. Over the course of a single day the soldiers systematically exterminated the entire population of the village. First the men were taken out and tortured and mudered. Next, the women were raped and murdered. Eventually, the soldiers machine gunned the children who had been locked in a hall. The village was excavated in detail after the war by foresic anthropologists. The bullets that they recovered had all been fired from US supplied M16 semi-automatic rifles.
The Special Police Commandos were specifically created to provide the Interior Ministry with a strike force capability and have been instrumental in numerous operations since their foundation. In order to become rapidly operational, recruits for the Police Commandos were drawn from former Iraqi special forces personnel without regard to religious affiliations. Peter Maas describes the way in which the Commandos were encouraged to cultivate a frightening paramilitary image, donning balaclavas and fingerless gloves before conducting missions. He also descirbes accompanying the Commandos on patrol, alongside US special forces personnel. Even in such proximity to a Western journalist the Commandos showed no compunction in beating suspects and appeared at one point to only have been prevented from executing an innocent boy by the US army advisor, who may have been more aware of the media scrutiny.
One of the Commandos first major engagements was in Mosul, where resistance fighters were reported to have driven the regular police from the city. Eyewitness accounts describe the way in which the Commandos stromed mosques and residences bringing out suspects who were blindfolded and whose hands were tied behind their backs. In the weeks that followed their deployment, dozens of victims of extrajudicial killings were found scattered about the city, although every media report blamed insurgents for the killings.
Whilst nothing was made of the Mosul killings or those accompanying their other early deployments outside Baghdad, numerous allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings have been linked to them, especially by Sunni groups within Baghdad. Of these, one of the best substantiated is the case of 10 bricklayers seized from a Baghdad hospital and subsequently locked in an airless van for over 12 hours in blazing heat. Most of the men suffocated to death, but one who managed to survive and evade the police managed to tell his story to journalists.
The police commando unit responsible for the suffocation killings is known as the Wolf Brigade. We know this only because Peter Beaumont writing in the Observer refers to the Wolf Brigade's Nissor Square detention facility, corresponding to the Nisour Square police station highlighted in the suffocation case. This identification is important because in much 'informed' analysis the Wolf Brigade has been described as a Shiite militia, while the Special Police Commandos were regarded as a Sunni outfit and totally independent.
The charge that the Police Commandos have been infiltrated by the Badr Brigade, the former armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) remains entirely unsubstantiated though frequently repeated. The only evidence that has been offered is that with the incoming Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, formerly a Badr commander according to the press, some 160 Sunni officials at the Interior Ministry were sacked. The implication is that these would have inlcuded all the non-Badr officers of the Special Police Commandos, but, in fact, those senior figures that we are aware of did not lose their position. Significantly, one of these is the head of the Police Commandos, General Rashid Flayih, who, though a Shiite, was a Baathist general and deeply involved in crushing the Shiite rising that followed the first Gulf War in 1991.
Little information is available about the Badr Brigade. For a militia with such influence, they remain highly elusive, lending credibility to the Badr Organisation's own claims that the Brigade was disbanded soon after the invasion.
In this Feb 2005 picture of General Rashid, we see him in close consultation with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Counselor to the US Embassador for Iraqi Security James Steele.
Even more significantly than the continued tenure of General Rashid Flayih, is that of General Adnan Thabit. Adnan was instrumental in establishing the Police Commandos according to Maas and is currently in charge of all of the Interior Ministry's extensive security forces. Adnan is a Sunni and was a Baathist intelligence officer. Like Rashid, Adnan has a history of collaboration with the CIA.
In the photo Adnan is watching a programme entitled Terrorism in the Grip of Justice. The programme, sometimes referred to as his brainchild, is aired at prime time and features obviously tortured detainees confessing to a lurid array of crimes. According to the programme, many of Iraq's killers are not only homicidal maniacs, but are homosexuals to boot! The television station that hosts the programme comes courtesy of US tax payers. If you follow the link you will note how the Guardian report senstationalises something that should make any civilised human being vomit.
The second image in this scene shows the Interior Minister Bayan Jabr relaxing among the US staff officers in Iraq. In the foreground is General Casey, head of all US forces in Iraq. We are expected to believe that this man is stealing the Interior Ministry from under the noses of the US occupation and throwing the country into sectarian chaos to benefit his allies in Iran.
If we can discount the notion that the upper echelons of the Interior Ministry have become a hotbed of fundamentalist Shiite Badr members, we might consider the slightly distinct suggestion that Shiite militiamen have infiltrated the organs of the Ministry at lower levels and are acting on their own initiative or in conjuction with shadowy power structures beyond the influence of the occupying powers. This brings us back to the work of Yasser Salihee, who had started to pose hard questions about how people posing as police officers could get their hands on expensive police equipment and operate with impunity under conditions of high security. Even if we posit that such people maintain double lives as police officers one minute and Shiite death squad the next, it would still be necessary to answer how large groups of armed men with fleets of vehicles are able to evade notice by the occupying forces or by elements within the security forces not loyal to Badr or similar organisations. The whole concept becomes even more ludicrous when we consider that all of these units still operate in tandem with embedded US personnel, whose numbers were apparently beefed up before the Samarra bombing. Are we expected to believe that these militiamen sneak from their beds to commit atrocities at secret prisons in the dead of night, then slip back before dawn, leaving their bewildered US advisors to wonder why the can't stay awake on operations? Clearly the whole idea is utterly ridiculous and exposes the extreme duplicity of the mainstream media establishment, which has not even posed the most rudimentary questions about death squads working from the Ministry of the Interior and their relationship to the occupying powers.
The victims of extrajudicial execution by members of the security forces must now number many thousand. If there is a pattern to the violence, it remains unclear, although some lines are beginning to emerge. One group that we can say with certainty has been deliberately targeted has been academics, hundreds of whom have been murdered to date. In Latin America, counter insurgency wars have deliberately targeted segments of the population pushing for progressive social change or resisting unpopular economic reform. This is clear, for instance, in the present conflict in Colombia, where trade unionists resisting privatisation or demanding improved pay or conditions have frequently become victims of the death squads. It is highly likely that this is the case too in Iraq, where a rabid spate of neoliberal privatisation and pro-investment legislation has resulted in rampant unemployment and a massive reduction in living standards, below that even experienced under the cruel Anglo-American sanctions regime that lead to the deaths of half a million children. Whilst it may not be much evidenced in our media, Iraq is awash in industrial disputes and demonstrations in favour of work and tolerable living conditions. Far from having any intention of acquiesing to such basic demands, the occupying powers have resorted to importing dirt cheap labour from India, Pakistan and the Philippines in a blatant attempt to drive down wages. Meanwhile, with import tarriffs discarded, the owners of small Iraqi businesses are looking to outsource production, even though half the Iraqi workforce remains without work.
The quotation presented here by Laith Al-Saud, a college lecturer in the social sciences now in the US, typifies the attitude of most serious academics and commentators towards the present situation in Iraq (for instance, see Ghali Hassan's Occupation and Sectarianism). Much the same view was expressed in veteran investigative journalist John Pilger's latest article in the New Statesman. If anything, Laith Al-Said is being over generous to the occupiers in suggesting that partitioning the country through civil war was only a backup plan if all else failed. There is actually good reason to think that Balkanising the existing state was always part of the London-Washington agenda. The desirability of such an outcome was expressed by Leslie Gelb, president emiritus of the influential US think tank the Council for Foreign Relations, in a November 2003 editorial and repeated in May this year. More significantly, the goal is shared by Mowaffak Rubiae, an exiled Iraqi doctor who has been put in charge of the entirety of Iraq's huge new CIA-built intelligence apparatus. The logic is of course obvious: smaller states are weaker and easier to control.