November 26, 2007
More news rolls in about the "successful tactics" being employed by the U.S. commandant in Iraq, General David Gaius Julius Petraeus. As we have noted here before, much of the relative drop in the death rate in the still-fertile killing fields of Iraq can be attributed to one of Petraeus' bold "counterinsurgency" innovations: surrendering whole swathes of territory to your enemy – and paying them handsomely for the privilege – in exchange for their promise not to kill your own troops for awhile.
Not since the Civil War days of George McClellan has an American general been so feted and trumpeted for his crushing defeats – although not even McClellan went as far as paying Rebel guerrillas like Bill Quantrill and his murderous bushwhackers to take over chunks of Union territory and run it as a personal fiefdom. But that is exactly what Petraeus is doing in Iraq. He is shelling out millions in taxpayer dollars to groups that only a few weeks ago were killing Americans and launching terrorist attacks with their allies in the extremist bands loosely grouped under the rubric "al Qaeda." (It's obvious that "al Qaeda" is losing its brand specificity and, like "xerox" or "zipper," is becoming a generic term applied to all manner of items beyond the original product.)
Of course, buying off your enemy is an ancient military tactic, and it certainly beats killing each other – and innumerable "collaterals" in the process. But Petraeus is not only paying terrorists and insurgents and death squadders to lay off the roadside bombs and sniper fire in the "Sunni Awakening" movement: he's giving them iron-fisted control over various walled enclaves, where – surprise, surprise! – they are lording it over the locals with brutal abandon, while American forces look the other way, or actively assist.
The latest report comes from the pro-war, Murdoch-owned Sunday Times: "American-backed killer militias strut across Iraq." It is one of a continuing series of stories in the UK press that go behind the glowing "surge" PR now dominating the American media. It begins with the story of Kahiriya Musa, whose husband was killed by ethnic cleansers 18 months ago, and who now refuses to join the trickle of Iraqis returning to their newly pacified neighborhoods. Here are your tax dollars at work:
Asked when she intended to leave this squalor and return to the comfortable family home, Kahiriya Musa, 30, is emphatic. "Never," she declares. "They will kill me if I return." While one of her husband’s killers has been arrested, she says, the other two have joined the Baghdad Brigade, a Sunni militia funded by the American forces which now holds sway in her old neighbourhood.
Members of the Baghdad Brigade receive $300 a man each month from the Americans, who also provide vehicles, uniforms and flak jackets. In return the brigade keeps out Al-Qaeda, dismantles roadside bombs and patrols the area, a task performed with considerable swagger by many of its 4,000 recruits.
The US military is delighted with the results achieved by the brigade in Abu Ghraib and by similar groups in other former "hot spots" of sectarian conflict that have seen a sharp decline in violence.
For Shi’ites such as Kahiriya Musa, however, a Sunni militia represents another potential source of terror in a country where millions have been traumatised by ethnic cleansing…
But even Sunni residents see trouble ahead. One pointed out former members of the Islamic Army – a group once closely associated with Al-Qaeda, whose atrocities included the murder of Enzo Baldoni, a kidnapped Italian journalist – among the knights. In an Ameriya school last week some of the knights showed that although they may have switched allegiances, they still hold the fundamentalist beliefs that drew them to Al-Qaeda in the first place.
Carrying their weapons, they went from one class to the next, looking for mobile phones with "unIslamic" ringtones. One child with a pop music ringtone was slapped and kicked in the legs as a warning to the others.
Meanwhile, the targets of ethnic cleansing continue to suffer. Habib Haji, a 65-year-old widower from Sab al-Boor, north of the capital, received a letter giving him three days to leave with his daughter Salwa, 15, or die. "I left immediately," said Haji, whose 18-year-old son Mehdi had already disappeared after going out to buy some cigarettes. According to Haji, the death threat came from men who used to be Al-Qaeda members but now form part of the awakening. Even the militia commanders confirm that they have the Shi’ites in their long-range sights after a turbulent few months…
Abu Omar, an intelligence officer with the Baghdad Brigade in Abu Ghraib, was candid. "Of course the coming war is with the [Shi’ite] militias," he said. "God willing, we will defeat them and get rid of them just as we did Al-Qaeda."
Abu Maroof, one of the brigade’s commanders, said that he regarded the Shi’ite militias, which include the Mahdi Army of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, as more dangerous than the United States. But he is also increasingly hostile to the government of Nouri al-Maliki, which is reluctant to absorb militia members into the official Iraqi security forces. "If the government continues to reject them, let it be clear that this brigade will eventually take its revenge," he warned.
In this of course, the goodly knight is as one with Petraeus' masters back in Washington, who have obviously decided that putting tens of thousands of Sunni militiamen on the imperial payroll will help pressure their recalcitrant clients in Baghdad to play ball – or else. Antiwar.com quotes the latest Iraq Weekly Status Report from the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs:
Senior military commanders now portray the intransigence of Iraq’s Shiite dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaida terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias. Several U.S. military officials have expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government’s failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it’s unclear how long that window is going to be open."
In other words, if the Shiite factions empowered by the U.S. invasion don't get it in gear and let the American-backed Sunni militias get a slice of the pie, then U.S. employees like Abu Maroof will "eventually take their revenge." You could have a whole new round of civil war between Shiite and Sunni factions that are both backed by the United States: the usual win-win scenario, keeping Iraq supine, "justifying" a continuing U.S. military presence, and ensuring American dominance of whatever regime emerges from the mass bloodletting.
This is the reality that has always prevailed in Iraq, from the moment that George W. Bush ordered the international war crime of military aggression to begin to the latest "metric of success" in the Petraeus surge. This war has never been anything more than a low and dirty game of power politics for the benefit of a few elites – who are willing to pay anyone to kill for them, or see anyone killed, as long as their interests are served.