US Collusion with Iraqi Death Squads: Part 2

June 28th, 2006 - by admin

Max Fuller / – 2006-06-28 09:16:03

US Collusion with Iraqi Death Squads: Part 2.
Diyala — A Laboratory of Civil War?

Out for the Count? Interpreting Conflicting Narratives

Operation Knockout proved to be no final engagement for the security forces either in Diyala province or just around Baquba. Since then the social and political space has been dominated by at least five forms of violence.

The following analysis is drawn from a trawl of mainstream Western media sources on the Internet and from a day by day examination of Iraqi Resistance reports compiled by Free Arab Voice between 13 November and the middle of May. It is not intended to be seen as comprehensive.

(i) Police/army Raids
Resistance reports make reference to around a dozen supplemental raids since Operation Knockout in which hundreds more Iraqis have been detained. No information is available about the fate of the detainees and detailed reports of the raids themselves are absent. The raids are variously described as having been undertaken by “troops,” “Interior Ministry Shock Troops,” “US occupation forces backed up by Iraqi puppet army troops,” “Interior Ministry troops,” “militiamen with official government documents issued by the Ministry of the Interior,” etc. From such descriptions it is difficult to know which units were responsible, although in most cases one suspects units of the Special Police. Western media sources do not make identification any easier and fewer raids have been reported.

(ii) Resistance Attacks against US/Iraqi security forces, including killings of alleged collaborators and members of Shiite militias.
Most of these attacks took the form of roadside bombs, but well-orchestrated assaults on police/army bases and checkpoints were also frequently reported. A handful of alleged “collaborators? are also reported to have been executed by Resistance fighters.

(iii) “Mysterious” Bombings
Several bombs which exploded in civilian areas were described in Resistance reports as mysterious. Mosques seem to have been the intended targets in several instances; one is reported to have been Sunni, one Shiite, and two others are not attributed.

Other targets included a girls’ school and a crowded market. According to a report for Middle East Online, dated 1 May 2006, the police chief of Baquba claimed that 70 bombs had been planted on the city streets in the preceding two weeks alone, of which 40 had gone off, killing 12 people.

(iv) Extrajudical Killings and Assassinations
Several instances of extrajudicial killings bearing the hallmarks of death squads have been reported. On 23 December 2005 three bodies were found with multiple gunshot wounds in Southern Baquba; the bodies were found blindfolded with their hands and legs bound.

On 23 February gunmen pulled factory workers off buses and killed 47 of them; the bullet-riddled bodies were found behind a brick factory.

On 25 February 2006 13 members of a Shia family were killed in their home by gunmen. On the same day, 12 farm laborers, both Sunnis and Shiites, were found shot dead in an orchard; the victims had been shot in the head and face. On 26 February two boys were killed when gunmen opened fire on a group of teenagers playing football.

On 28 February nine bodies were found in wasteland around Tarfiya; the victims had been shot in the head. On 27 March at least 18 bodies of males were found in a deserted brush area around Tarfiya; the victims are variously described as having been decapitated or having been shot in the head. On 8 April 10 bodies were found in black body bags in Balad Rooz; the victims had been shot in the head.

On 19 April three professors were killed when gunmen opened fire at Diyala University. On 10 May 11 workers at an electrical plant were killed by gunmen on their way from or to work.

On 13 May four unidentified bodies with bullet holes in their heads and chests were dumped in a stream in Khan Bani Saad; according to one report they were Shiites.

It should be noted that the spike in reports after 23 February may well represent increased media attention following the bombing of the Askari mosque in Samarra, rather than any quantifiable surge in attacks.

(v) Ethnic Cleansing
According to Quds Press, quoted in a Resistance report for 8 March, around 1000 Sunni families have fled their homes in the Madain area after receiving death threats from members of the police and special police.

While these accounts of various forms of violence and intimidation undoubtedly reflect a climate of pervasive and widespread violence, including an ongoing struggle between the forces of occupation and an organic resistance, it is extremely difficult to make objective comments about their significance. The following passages drawn from four separate accounts underline this point.

• a) “If the insurgency stays at this level, I expect to free up combat power before the end of our deployment,” [US Col] Salazar says.
The Nation, 9 April 2006

• b) In this confessionally divided provincial capital [Baquba] just north of Baghdad, the mounting sectarian tensions that have gripped the new Iraq have spelled a spate of tit-for-tat killings of civilians as Shiite militiamen avenge attacks by Sunni insurgents, sparking a vicious circle of violence …

“Drive-by shootings and other gun attacks have proved deadlier, killing nearly 40 people in the past two weeks,” Bawi said …

The apparent impotence of Iraq’s fledgling security forces in the face of the worsening bloodshed has sparked anger among residents.
Middle East Online, 1 May 2006

• c) rebels spread control over most of Diyala Province of which the city of Baquba is the capital.

The city’s nearly 350,000 live in a state of terror as the security forces charged with keeping law and order can hardly protect themselves.
Azzaman, 11 May 2006

• d) Mrs Mohammed is a Kurd and a Shia in Baquba, which has a majority of Sunni Arabs. Her husband, Ahmed, who traded fruit in the local market, said: “They threatend the Kurds and the Shia and told them to get out …

It was impossible to travel to Baquba, the capital of Diyala, from Baghdad without extreme danger
Independent, 20 May 2006

It should be noted that the US assessment referred to here predated a major increase in attacks against occupation forces that began towards the end of April, which might well invalidate the opinion expressed by US Col Salazar.

Nonetheless, even comparing these descriptions of the overall situation with the various accounts of violence that are available is far from straightforward. The account in Middle East Online indicates a level of violence against civilians that is not adequately reflected in either the mainstream media nor the Resistance reports. However, it remains credible because we know the same relationship would hold in areas where we have a better overall impression of the extent of the violence.

Uniting the Narratives
The accounts offered in the Independent and Azzaman appear to stand in total opposition to one another. If the Resistance has spread control over Diyala, surely a communitarian civil war of the kind alluded to in the Independent is extremely unlikely to be taking place. That is, unless we are prepared to entertain a very special definition of “civil war.”

Such a definition would require us to accept that the Resistance represents an exclusively Sunni faction (not even borne out in the US military’s statistics for detained suspects, see above) and that the security forces, especially the counterinsurgency brigades, represent an exclusively Shiite faction (not borne out in any credible analysis of their composition, nor in their relationship to the occupying powers, including the presence of special police transition teams).

Thus, with a fierce conflict taking place between the Occupation and the Resistance, it might indeed be possible to conclude that a ‘sectarian civil war’ was underway. This seems to be the preferred definition for the Western media establishment.

“Sectartian Civil War” or a “Cruel Deception”?
But what of Mrs Mohammed? It is possilble that angry Sunnis have responded to perceived sectarian assaults in kind, but, assuming that this story is real, it seems much more likely that she and her family are the victims of a cruel deception designed to fracture the country along ethno-confessional lines.

More and more evidence of such a pattern is starting to emerge, including a recent account published by the BRussells Tribunal anonymously from within Iraq, which refers to evidence that the same special covert units are employed to fabricate sectarian attacks against both Sunni and Shiite Iraqis. In addition, there are indications that other killings are being carried out by death squads operating from within the paramilitary Facilities Protection Service.

If we want to make sense of what is happening in Iraq we need to recognize that words like SCIRI, Badr and Mahdi, together with phrases like civil war, sectarian violence, revenge killings and tit-for-tat murders all serve to deemphasize the centrality of the occupation and mystify what is a very real and deadly counterinsurgency war.

From an external perspective, it is extremely difficult to discern whether the Resistance has seized control of Diyala or whether a genuine civil war along sectarian lines has broken out. What we must suspect, though, based on concrete reasoning, is that the security forces trained, armed and guided by the British and Americans will be committing terrible crimes against humanity in their role as attack dogs for the occupation.

This is not to try to say that every single killing is carried out by the security forces, but it is to say that the security forces are so obviously involved in a great many cases that the Western media and other apologists for the occupation and abettors of genocide have been forced to resort to claiming that the security forces have been infiltrated by various militias. If there are militias in the Ministry of Interior, you can be sure that they are militias that stand to attention whenever a US colonel enters the room.

And if there are masked gunmen claiming to be from Badr of Mahdi or anywhere else, the first question we should all be asking is where did they get their lists of victims from? For my money, they will have come straight out of the Intelligence Office of the Operations Directorate at the US-run Ministry of the Interior.

Appendix: The Memory Vortex
Communities fight back against raids
Two reports in May seem to indicate that communities are seeking ways to fight back against nighttime raids.

According to an Iraqi Resistance report dated 1 May 2006, citing Mafkarat al-Islam, fierce fighting erupted around the areas of al-Hadid and Abu Zayd when a raid by “Iraqi puppet police and puppet army troops? was opposed by armed residents. According to the report, nine of the assailants and dozens of locals were killed in the fighting. Following the battle, US troops joined the Iraqi forces in carrying out massive and indiscriminate arrests.

On 11 May, international press sources reported that village leaders and clerics alerted police and US soldiers when gunmen, some of them wearing military uniforms, raided two “sunni” villages near Khan Bani Saad. According to these reports, US and Iraqi forces were able to rescue seven of 10 men that were being abducted. Thirty people were arrested, including an unknown number of the gunmen.

According to the reports, some gunmen told police they belonged to the Shiite militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. This attribution was supported by the Interior Minister at the time, Bayan Jabr, who claimed that the gunmen were carrying badges identifying them as belonging to the Force Protection Service (FPS) of the Ministry of Health, which has been reported to be under the control of Muqtada al-Sadr. A spokesman for al-Sadr subsequently claimed that that the FPS members had gone to help, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

It is difficult to believe that these two account are not related despite the time gap, although I can find no evidence that this is the case. It is also difficult not to credit the Mafkarat al-Islam as being a far more plausible general depiction of events. Clearly, if Sadr militiamen had formed a secret death squad to attack villages around Khan Bani Saad, we should be hearing about it all over the press.

Unfortunately, this is yet another case “under investigation” that is likely to be consigned to the dustbin of history and blacked out by the Western media.

Diyala police linked to death squads
On 27 March, in what was described as “an unusual admission”, Reuters reported that the Iraqi Interior Ministry had arrested a police major, Arkan al-Bawi, in Diyala province for operating death squads in Baquba. According to the Interior Ministry, Bawi confessed that his gang members wore police uniforms stolen during attacks on police checkpoints and that they had killed many people.

On 28 March, Reuters reported that the police chief in Diyala, major-general Ghassan al-Bawi, the brother of Arkan, had been arrested for “corruption and threatening security.” Unbelievably, even this bombshell of a story died instantly [in fact, the story now seems to have been removed from the Internet; the version offered here is copied from a printed extract of the original].

Even more remarkably, on 28 April, provincial police chief Maj. Ghassan al-Bawi was reported to have stated that troops and police were on the streets of Baquba and roads to the city were closed because of fears the insurgents might regroup [This story, too, is now extremely hard to come by, with only two examples still available through Google; the only other evidence that Ghassan al-Bawi has retained his post is a cached BBC page which refers to an Interview with al-Bawi in June 2006].

It appeared that the arrest of two senior police officers linked to death squads in Diyala had simply not taken place at all. Perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps it was another major-general Ghassan al-Bawi that had been arrested for “threatening security”!

If we go right back to Hess’s UPI report of the November 13 raid, we will recall that the new police chief “is associated with the SCIRI, the political arm of the Badr brigade.” Is that not then newsworthy either! Mahdi militiamen in death squad arrested in act and SCIRI police appointee linked to death squads! Apparently not. One can only assume that any detailed independent investigation would rapidly be forced to conclude that neither Mahdi nor SCIRI were responsible, but the US-installed police force were.

Max Fuller has worked for some years as a member of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign in the UK and has read extensively on US policy and Latin America. He is the author of several reports published in the ‘Bulletin of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign’. Max Fuller is the author of For Iraq, the Salvador Option Becomes Reality and Crying Wolf: Media Disinformation and Death Squads in Occupied Iraq’, both published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation. He is a member of the BRussells Tribunal Advisory Committee and he is an authority in the field of “Death Squads” and “the Salvador Option”. He can be contacted via the website
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization. The Centre for Research on Globalization.

© Copyright Max Fuller,, 2006

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