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The Dirty War in Iraq
On September 8, 2005 the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq issued a human rights report, stating that the governing institutions created by the United States in Iraq are engaged in an organized campaign of detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution, directed primarily at Iraqis who practice the Sunni form of Islam.
The UN report expressed the greatest concern regarding arrests by forces linked to the Ministry of the Interior: Corpses appear regularly in and around Baghdad and other areas. Most bear signs of torture and appear to be victims of extrajudicial executions.... Serious allegations of extrajudicial executions underline a deterioration in the situation of law and order . Accounts consistently point to the systematic use of torture during interrogations at police stations and within other premises belonging to the Ministry of the Interior.
In this report the UN has finally acknowledged what a small number of journalists have been reporting for at least 18 months, that a brutal dirty war has grown out of the U.S. occupation. On March 15, 2004, the New Statesman published an article by Stephen Grey titled Rule of the Death Squads regarding the murder of Professor Abdullatif al-Mayah in Baghdad on January 19, 2004. It quoted a senior commander at the headquarters of the U.S.-installed Iraqi police, Dr. Abdullatif was becoming more and more popular because he spoke for people on the street here. He made some politicians quite jealous . You can look no further than the governing council. There are political parties in this city who are systematically killing people. They are politicians that are backed by the Americans and who arrived to Iraq from exile with a list of their enemies. They are killing people one by one.
On January 16, 2005 USA Today reported on the work of Isam al-Rawi, a geology professor who heads the Iraqi Association of University Lecturers. He has been cataloging assassinations of academics in occupied Iraq and has documented 300 of them. He was unable to identify a clear pattern to the killings, except that, like al-Mayah, the victims were usually the most respected and popular members of their universities and their communities.
On January 14, 2005 Newsweek reported on The Salvador Option, the proposed use of death squads as part of the U.S. strategy to subdue the country. It noted that some U.S. policymakers consider this to have been effective in Central America in the 1980s. Newsweek cited Interim Prime Minister Allawi, a former agent of both the Iraqi Mukhabarat and the CIA, as a principal proponent of this policy. A U.S. military source told Newsweek, 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. This source was expressing precisely the rationale behind the dirty wars in Latin America and the worst abuses of the Vietnam War. The purpose of such a strategy is not to identify, detain, and kill actual resistance fighters, but rather to terrorize an entire civilian population into submission.
The exile groups who began this dirty war in the early days of the occupation have come to form the core of successive governing institutions established by the United States. Their campaign of killing and torture has evolved and become institutionalized and their victims now number in the thousands. The UN report does not address the possibility of a direct U.S. role in the campaign, but the interior ministry units that are most frequently implicated in these abuses were formed under U.S. supervision and work closely with U.S. advisors. The identities of their two principal advisors only reinforce these concerns. They are retired Colonel James Steele and former DEA officer Steven Casteel. Both are veterans of previous dirty wars.
Steven Casteel worked in Colombia with paramilitaries called Los Pepes that later joined forces to form the AUC in 1997 and who have been responsible for most of the violence against civilians in Colombia. Casteel is now credited with founding the Special Police Commandos in his capacity as senior advisor to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
Assigning responsibility for atrocities to particular units or individuals is complicated by the dual nature of the Iraqi security forces, which take orders both from their nominal superiors and from separate chains of command in the factional militias that most of them belong to. Ultimate responsibility for abuses is thus blurred by the fiction of the government and the militias as distinct entities when the same people are really involved in both all the way to the top.
Reports of torture and extrajudicial killings have followed the Special Police Commandos around the country wherever they have been deployed, from Anbar province and Mosul since October 2004 to Samarra in March 2005 to areas around Baghdad since May 2005. The UN report highlighted an incident in Badhra on August 25, in which relatives of the victims identified the abductors as Interior Ministry forces.
After Special Police Commandos were deployed in Baghdad, 14 farmers were found in a shallow grave on May 5, 2005 with their right eyeballs removed and other signs of torture after they were seen being arrested at a vegetable market. Another incident ten days later, in which eight bodies were found in a garbage dump, prompted Hareth al-Dhari, the secretary general of the Association of Muslim Scholars, to accuse the Interior Ministry directly. This is state terrorism by the Ministry of Interior, he claimed. The defense minister responded by blaming terrorists wearing military uniforms.
In another twist, the bodies of 8 men from Sadr City were found in Yussufiah, 40 kilometers from their homes, dressed in army uniforms even though none were soldiers. Their killers obviously wanted their deaths to appear to have been the work of resistance forces.
Then there is the work and tragic death of Yasser Salihee, the Iraqi physician turned journalist, who dared to launch an investigation into abuses by the Special Police Commandos. Knight Ridder posthumously published his work under the title, Sunni men in Baghdad targeted by attackers in police uniforms on June 27, 2005. The cautious language of the report verged on irony, but it described eyewitness accounts of numerous abductions by large groups of men driving white Toyota Land Cruisers with police markings. The men were wearing police commando uniforms and bulletproof vests, carrying expensive 9-millimeter Glock pistols and using sophisticated radios.
Knight Ridder actually interviewed Steven Casteel for their story. He predictably blamed insurgents impersonating commandos. As the article pointed out, this raised troubling questions about how insurgents are getting expensive new police equipment. The Toyotas, which cost more than $55,000 apiece, and Glocks, at about $500 each, are hard to come by in Iraq, and theyre rarely used by anyone other than Western contractors and Iraqi security forces.
Faik Baqr, director of the central morgue in Baghdad, said, It is a very delicate subject for society when you are blaming the police officers . It is not an easy issue. We hear that they are captured by the police and then the bodies are found killed . Its obviously in- creasing.
Yasser Salihee died on his way to get gas to drive his family to a swimming pool on his day off. He was shot by a U.S. sniper at a checkpoint. His editor, Steve Butler, has told me he has no reason to think Yassers death was connected to his work and the U.S. Armys account of the incident describes a random shooting based only on rules of engagement that greatly prioritize U.S. over Iraqi lives. However, as Italian investigators found in the case of Nicola Calipari, U.S. accounts of such incidents are not reliable and U.S. links to the forces Salihee was investigating cast a dark shadow over his death.
Finally, the Iraqi death squads appear to have violated a dirty war tabootheyve killed a U.S. journalist. Steven Vincent was an award-winning art critic from New York who went to Iraq as a freelance writer for National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and Harpers, and wrote a book, In the Red Zone, about the experiences of Iraqis in post-invasion Iraq. On July 29, 2005, he wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times that many of the police in Basra were also active in the Shiite militias that had killed hundreds of Sunnis in the city. Four days later, he was abducted by a group of men in a brand new white Chevy pick-up with police markings. His body was found by the side of a road outside the city with three gunshot wounds to the chest.
The Associated Press has begun to track the numbers of corpses found and, as of October 7, they have tallied 539 since the transitional government took office in April. They are reporting that the majority are Sunnis, not Shiites or Kurds, and that the count may be low since one or two bodies are found almost daily and are never reported. Perhaps the UN report and the deaths, particularly of journalists will spur more of the media to start reporting and investigating this pattern of state terrorism.
Nicolas J.S. Davies is a student of U.S. history and foreign policy. He lives in Miami, Florida.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.