Saturday, December 02, 2006

Why is there civil war in Iraq?

part 2: Did US deliberately foment this civil war?

27 November 2006. A World to Win News Service. The existence of similar situations in countries victimized by imperialism has led some journalists and political organisations, and a broad section of people, especially in the oppressed countries, to believe that the US has deliberately fanned the civil war in Iraq. There are reasons and unanswered questions that lend credit to these theories.

Despite their present pious protestations to the contrary, the US and other imperialists involved in the occupation of Iraq were not taken by surprise when the civil war started. They were not completely unaware of the consequences of their policies. Some imperialist strategists had predicted such an outcome long before the invasion. As Stephen Zunes documents ( , “Some of the war’s intellectual architects acknowledged as much: In a 1997 paper, prior to becoming major figures in the Bush foreign policy team, David Wurmser, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith predicted that a post-Saddam Iraq would likely be ‘ripped apart’ by sectarianism and other cleavages but called on the United States to ‘expedite’ such a collapse anyway.”

How did they plan to expedite it?

The well-known London-based journalist John Pilger wrote, “The real news, which is not reported in the CNN ‘mainstream’, is that the Salvador Option has been invoked in Iraq. This is the campaign of terror by death squads armed and trained by the US, which attack Sunnis and Shias alike. The goal is the incitement of a real civil war and the break-up of Iraq, the original war aim of Bush’s administration. The Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad, which is run by the CIA, directs the principal death squads. Their members are not exclusively Shia, as the myth goes. The most brutal are the Sunni-led Special Police Commandos, headed by former senior officers in Saddam’s Ba’ath Party. This unit was formed and trained by CIA ‘counter-insurgency’ experts, including veterans of the CIA’s terror operations in Central America in the 1980s, notably El Salvador.” (The New Statesman, 8 May 2006)

Among the permanent advisors to the Special Police Commandos is James Steele. An interview with him reveals he is “one of the United States military’s top experts on counter-insurgency. Steele honed his tactics leading a Special Forces mission in El Salvador during that country’s brutal civil war in the 1980’s. Steele’s presence was a sign not only of the Commando’s crucial role in the American counterinsurgency strategy but also of his close relationship with Adnan. Steele admired the general.” The reference is to the head of the Special Commandos, Adnan Thabit, a Sunni and former Baathist cadre – and, according to the interviewer, a man who doesn’t mind admitting a taste for torture and murder. (“The Way of the Commandos,” by Peter Maass, The New York Times Magazine, 1 May 2005)

Referring to the civil war in Iraq, British journalist Robert Fisk quotes a security official from Damascus whom, Fisk says, “I have known for 15 years”. The man reported, “One young Iraqi man told us that he was trained by the Americans as a policeman in Baghdad and he spent 70 percent of his time learning to drive and 30 percent in weapons training. They said to him: ‘Come back in a week.’ When he went back, they gave him a mobile phone and told him to drive into a crowded area near a mosque and phone them. He waited in the car but couldn’t get the right mobile signal. So he got out of the car to where he received a better signal. Then his car blew up.” (Independent, 26 April 2006)

Fisk continues: “Just who these ‘Americans’ might be, my source did not say. In the anarchic and panic-stricken world of Iraq, there are many US groups – including countless outfits supposedly working for the American military and the new Western-backed Iraqi Interior Ministry –who operate outside any laws or rules. No one can account for the murder of 191 university teachers and professors since the 2003 invasion.”

This can be connected to controversy about counterinsurgency tactics some two years ago, when some U.S. strategists began to suggest that the occupation adopt the “Salvador option”. A “senior military officer” told Newsweek, “We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing the defensive.” This very clearly shows Washington’s desperation in the face of a war that was going worse and worse. The US-based magazine continues, “The Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still secret strategy in the Reagan administration’ s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s.” (14 January 2005) ”

According to Newsweek, following the Salvador model, the Pentagon “would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria”. In May 2005, similar details were revealed in a New York magazine article entitled “The Salvadorization of Iraq?”

American Congressman Denis Kucinich took these reports seriously enough to write a letter to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “This program in El Salvador was highly controversial and received much public backlash in the U.S., as tens of thousands of innocent civilians were assassinated and ‘disappeared’ ...According to the Newsweek report, Pentagon conservatives wanted to resurrect the Salvadoran program in Iraq because they believed that despite the incredible cost in human lives and human rights, it was successful in eradicating guerrillas”. The letter also refers to an article in Prospect magazine (1 January 2004), which according to Kucinich says, “$3 billion of the $87 billion to fund operations in Iraq was designated for the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. According to the Prospect article, experts predicted that creation of this paramilitary unit would ‘lead to a wave of extra-judicial killings, not only of armed rebels but of nationalists, other opponents of the U.S. occupation and thousands of civilian Baathists.’ The article further described how the bulk of the $3 billion program, disguised as an Air Force classified programme, would be used to ‘support U.S. efforts to create a lethal, and revenge-minded Iraqi security force.’ According to one of the article’s sources, John Pike, an expert on classified military budgets at www.globalsecurity. org, ‘the big money would be for standing up an Iraqi secret police to liquidate the resistance.’” (Taken from “Civil War in Iraq: The Salvador Option and US/UK Policy”, by Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and now a prominent critic of British and American foreign policy, 18 October 2006, available at www.craigmurray.

Here it’s worth pointing out a striking fact: in the early and mid 1980s, when the US government funded and organised the death squads called “Contras” who killed civilians in a campaign to overthrow a pro-Soviet reform government in Nicaragua, as well as similar death squads which carried out horrendous mass murders in El Salvador, John Negroponte was the US ambassador to Honduras. That country, neighbouring both El Salvador and Nicaragua, is where the Contras were armed, trained and based. In a later US Congressional investigation, he was accused of personally running the Contra operation. In June 2004, John Negroponte became US ambassador to Iraq. He served there until the following year when he became Bush’s Director of Central Intelligence (which includes heading the CIA), where he serves today.

The basis for a civil war in Iraq goes back to the formation of the country as a British colony, when the UK instituted the policy of relying on the minority Sunni elite to rule over the Kurds and Shia. Saddam Hussein simply took over that power structure. That cannot be blamed on the US. What the US did do was to deliberately exacerbate the material conditions in Iraqi society that made this civil war possible, in the decade before the US-led invasion, and then set up a political structure that handed power to narrow nationalists (the Kurdish organizations) and the narrowly-based, reactionary Shia religious leaders. It re-empowered traditional ethnic and religious-based forces and encouraged a life-and-death power struggle between them. It created a situation where many people saw little chance for survival except by embracing “their” respective ethnic/religious militias.

In any kind of chaotic situation where there is a fierce contest for power on a vast scale, all sorts of violence among the people inevitably gets unleashed, even in the best of circumstances. In the conditions of Iraq today, where identity politics predominate and none of the main political forces even seeks to unite the people against their real enemies, and where the most reactionary ideas are the best-organized, armed and promoted by the occupiers, both directly and indirectly, then the situation is bound to be especially horrific. It would be wishful thinking to believe that this civil war has no basis and no logic and life of its own independent of the occupation. What is driving this madness is not the spontaneous impulses of the masses but the political goals and nature of the forces contending for power. It may be that the US finds itself in the position of having unleashed forces beyond its control. But the US did act knowingly and deliberately in fomenting this situation.

It might not be possible to verify the extent to which these reports reflected reality or how much of the “Salvador” scheme has materialised, but we can be certain that this pattern of operations has been carried out by US imperialism in many countries where it encountered difficulties in breaking the back of insurgencies.
(Next: The civil war and the US’s proposed solutions)


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