Reports of the carnage in Iraq appear in The New York Times with appalling regularity, such as the December 2, 2013 report, headlined “Blast Kills at Least 12 Mourners At Funeral of Iraq Sunni Leader.” Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! (December 27, 2013) reported that The United Nations puts the 2013 death toll from such attacks at 8,000, the highest Iraqi death toll in war-related violence since 2008. Almost daily, dozens of Iraqis are being killed and many more wounded, mostly by car bombs.* The car bombs are detonated in markets, outside restaurants and cafes, at wakes and funeral processions like the one cited above; in other words, at places where crowds have gathered.
Someone is waging a war in Iraq. But, who? Who is carrying out this campaign of terror and death against Iraq’s civilian population? Who would have a reason to do that, to punish them so?
The New York Times writers always attribute these mass murders to Shia-Sunni rivalry, or occasionally, to Al Qaeda. However, it is not only Muslims who are the targets. For example, The Times reported that on Christmas Day, a car bomb planted in a parking lot outside a Christian church killed 26 people and wounded at least 38 others. (“Worshipers Are Targeted at a Christmas Service in Baghdad,” December 26, 2013) Sometimes, the reporter’s attribution of guilt is even accompanied by speculation as to the motives for the attacks, which are usually one of three: revenge, to “stoke sectarian violence,” or to discredit the government. Furthermore, the Times reports invariably identify the religious affiliation of the victims – Sunni or Shia – as if this is somehow explains the cause of the tragedy. Lately, the speculation has expanded to blame the war in Syria for the carnage in Iraq.
Here’s the thing: Reports of the bombings attribute guilt and ascribe motives for these mass killings despite the fact that no group has claimed responsibility for these attacks. Moreover, it is clear that the targets of virtually all the attacks are not government buildings or officials as one would expect if the government were the target. The places where the car bombs are planted show that the killers are seeking to maximize the toll of death and injury among random civilians. They are deliberately planted in public places. Those killed or injured by a bomb in a public market at rush hour could be anyone, of any religion, age, or sex – ordinary people just trying to live their lives. In many cases, the original bomb is followed by another a few minutes later in the same area, a particularly vicious measure targeting survivors and rescuers.
In other words, presumably intelligent readers are invited to accept the speculation by a major newspaper like The New York Times that Iraqis or Moslems are carrying out a calculated campaign of terror targeting their own people. This speculation builds on a myth, now widely accepted even among otherwise informed activists and others: that Iraqi Shia and Sunni “have been killing each other for centuries,” in “age-old sectarian conflicts,” etc. Once one accepts this latter narrative – which many unwary US citizens, unfortunately, have done – one can easily dismiss these latest reports of violence as just a continuation of the same old pattern, so nothing can be done about it. Case closed.
But once one realizes that this narrative is false – that not only have the Shia and Sunni, far from “killing each other for centuries,” actually lived peacefully side by side for centuries, it is necessary to ask the question: then, what other, darker forces may be at work?
Where Have We Read This Narrative Before?
There is something about The Times‘ reporting of these mass killings that rings a bell. This new barrage of violence against Iraqi civilians is occurring and being reported in the virtually the same way that the proliferation of death squad activity was reported during 2005-8, by this same The New York Times.
How are the reports of these two events similar?
First, in the case of the death squad activity, The Times buried the almost daily reports of the death squad body counts. They were invariably well inside the text of an article about Iraq on an unrelated subject.
The death tolls from the car bombs in Iraq in 2013 have usually been relegated to a one-paragraph report in “World Briefs.”
In other words, these reports of hideous mass murder in both cases have been treated as if they are of marginal concern.
Second, as is the case with the reports of deaths from the car bombs, The Times also blithely attributed the death squad murders to “Shia-Sunni rivalries,” “sectarian hatred” or Al Qaeda , again, without any proof and despite the fact that no one had claimed responsibility AND even though the victims are never really identified.*
Yet, despite these tendentious media reports, anyone who has followed US foreign policy, particularly as implemented in Central America during the 1980s, could detect another, quite different dynamic at work when regarding the 2005-8 escalation of death squad activities in Iraq. The same suspicions arise with respect to these recent mass murders.
What Did the Death Squads Achieve?
First, let’s consider motive and what the death squads were accomplishing? Who would benefit from them? Let’s ask one more question: Why did the US government resort to death squads in Central America in the 1980s, for example?
The death squads were the means to what ends? 1) terrorizing the population into despair or submission, 2) neutralizing/destroying national liberation fighters and their supporters and other human rights activists, leaders, sympathizers as well as critics of the government, and 3) upholding the existing order. In short, these are goals of counterinsurgency.
How did this relate to the death squads in Iraq?
Resorting to “The El Salvador Option.”
As it turned out, in the early years after the US government’s 2003 occupation of Iraq began, reports emerged that the US government had decided to resort to “the Salvador Option,” or, in other words, to organize, arm, supply and train death squads in Iraq like those that the US government had organized, armed, supplied and trained in El Salvador in the 1980s. The US-trained death squads in El Salvador killed tens of thousands of people in El Salvador in an effort to destroy, as indicated above, the insurgency led by the FMLN – the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front – and the national liberation movement in El Salvador. (See “Iraq and the El Salvador ‘Option’,” by Justin Raimondo, Anti-war.com, January 15, 2005, and “The Salvador Option,” in Newsweek, January 2005.)
Shortly after these reports emerged that the US government was resorting to “the El Salvador Option,” the massive death squad activity of 2005-8 commenced in Iraq. Dozens of bodies were found around Baghdad almost daily, many with their hands tied behind their backs, tortured, some with hole drilled in their heads.
In 2011, we were able to see evidence of what the US government had done. We learned from documents released by Wikileaks that the US government in 2004, acting through David Petraeus, the US military commander in Iraq 2003-2005, brought in James Steele – the man who coordinated the US death squad campaign in El Salvador for the US government in the 1980s under Petraeus’ command. Steele’s assignment was to implement the same kind of “dirty war,” or campaign of torture and death squads, in Iraq. (details summarized on Democracy Now! March 22, 2013.)
Therefore, we now know that the reports in The New York Times about the death squad activity in Iraq that officially attributed them to “sectarian rivalries”—even when there was no proof of this AND when no groups had taken responsibility—were misleading and false. Behind these death squads and their savage torture and killing was the US government, its agents, US money, training, and organization, as well as the US Central Command and military personnel at the highest level.
Taking a Second Look at Today’s Bloodbath in Iraq
In light of this past experience with US military activity in Iraq and the way The Times covered it, one does not have to be “a conspiracy nut” to consider that the US government may, in fact, be instrumental in organizing the current carnage in which car bombs and suicide bombers have supplemented death squads as a method of action. In fact, it should be noted that the carnage in Iraq today actually continues to include kidnapping, torture and murder by death squads exactly like those organized by the US military during the 2005-8 period. For example, the same December 2 article cited above reported that, “Also on Sunday in eastern Baghdad, unidentified gunmen stormed a house and killed five members of a Sunni family, including two women and two children.”
The US government was responsible for the massive death squad activity from 2005-8, an unthinkable horror. If the US government is also responsible for this recent campaign of bloodletting in Iraq, could it be for the same general reasons it resorted to death squads from in El Salvador in the 1980s and in Iraq from 2005-8, that is, counterinsurgency? Before we review this aspect, let us consider another.
Today in Iraq, this massive attack on Iraqi civilians could, in fact, serve two additional US government long-term goals: one concerning the US military reoccupation of Iraq and the other concerning the future of US military occupation of Afghanistan.
“Capitulation” Equals “Impunity”
First, let us briefly review of US/Iraqi relations as they stand now. The US government officially ended its military occupation of Iraq on December 31, 2011, because the Iraqi government refused to grant US military forces immunity from prosecution under Iraqi laws.
Why does this immunity matter? Students of colonial history may recognize the term “capitulation,” the implementation of which was absolutely central to the perpetuation of British and French colonial domination.** What does “capitulation” or immunity mean in this context? It means that the colonizers are “above the laws” in the colonized country.
The British and French colonial governments demanded of the countries they colonized that local laws not apply to their colonial nationals who resided or did business in the colonies or to occupying troops of the British and French colonizers. This “capitulation” was essential to foreign domination: the plunder and brutality that are the essence of colonial/imperialist exploitation could not be realized without unfettered power by the forces of the British or French occupation/exploitation.
This has not changed today. The requirement that the Iraqi and Afghanistan governments grant immunity to US nationals, diplomats, and military forces is essential to guaranteeing that the US occupying power can do as it pleases. What was called “capitulation” in the 19th century and what is called “immunity” today strips the occupied country of its sovereignty. Because of the massive awareness among the Iraqis that US troops were allowed to carry out torture, murder and destruction against them with impunity during the US war and occupation, even the US puppet government of Nouri al-Maliki could NOT grant the US government’s demand that its military forces be guaranteed immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. So, the US officially withdrew all its military forces by the end of 2011.
Or, rather, the US government withdrew almost all of its forces. Let us not forget that the US government still maintains a large military footprint in Iraq. Iraq hosts the largest US embassy in the world, located in the highly secretive and heavily securitized Green Zone in the heart of Iraq’s capital Baghdad. The US occupation of Iraq has not really ended. Only the overt military presence has. The US government after “leaving” in 2011, left behind in the Green Zone thousands of civilian contractors, “about half of them armed.” (“Soldiers gone, but contractors remain in Iraq,” Lindsay Wise, Houston Chronicle, December 20, 2011.) What are all these armed contractors and US operatives doing inside that Green Zone?
“An Offer You Can’t Refuse”?
In the old days, the Mafia forced such small businesses as newsstands to buy “protection insurance” by presenting an offer the victim could not refuse. “What if your newsstand were to burn down one night? How could you afford to replace it?” the Mafioso agents would ask the hapless newsstand owner, who would respond: “It won’t happen.” The next night, the newsstand burns to the ground. The next day the Mafia agents come by and, miraculously, the newsstand owner has changed his mind and buys a protection policy: It was an offer that he could not refuse. Just as the Mafia of old presented to small businesses “offers of protection they could not refuse,” has the US government today, or as Noam Chomsky put it, the Godfather of today’s world – made an offer that the Iraqis cannot refuse? As Chomsky put it: “The godfather cannot permit independence and successful defiance.” *** Iraq must be taught a lesson. And it is working, as we shall see.
The US government made a similar offer to the US-backed government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan in its proposal called a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Under this agreement, the US government offered to withdraw most of its 47,000 troops by the end of 2014, and keep “only” 8-10,000 US Special Forces there until 2025 – allegedly to train the Afghanistan soldiers; and US Special Forces would agree to end night raids on homes (now numbering roughly one dozen each night) at the end of 2014. However, before the US government will maintain its military forces in Afghanistan (or anywhere else), the US government demanded that the Afghanistan government agree to grant these US troops and personnel immunity from prosecution under Afghanistan’s laws for the crimes they commit on Afghanistan soil. As US Secretary of State John Kerry put it, “what the United States sought was the same arrangement it had with every county in the world where its troops are stationed, including Japan and Germany.” (“Talks Clear Path for US-Afghan Deal on Troops,” The New York Times, October 13, 2013) The US government has troops in nearly 150 countries, according to US Department of Defense Data as of September 30, 2011.
Until late November 2013, however, Karzai had refused to grant this immunity, almost certainly for the same reason that the al-Maliki government in Iraq refused: because of pressure from the Afghanistan population sick of the death and destruction the US military occupation forces have wrought with impunity until now.
The US government insisted that this BSA had to be signed by December 31, 2013, but Karzai resisted. The US increased the pressure on Karzai. Like Mafia bosses, visiting high-level US government officials like Secretary of State Department John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice only had to point to Iraq and warn of similar “deadly escalation of violence” in Afghanistan should the Karzai government refuse to capitulate and US military forces leave Afghanistan. What this would mean could not have been more obvious: During that same days that Kerry and Rice were holding private talks with Karzai, car bombs planted in public places killed dozens of Iraqis.
Under such pressure, Karzai finally agreed to sign the BSA by late November 2013. However, days after the US government indicated the deal was clinched, Karzai changed his mind. OnNovember 21, in Kabul at the opening of a much-anticipated assembly of his hand-picked loya jirga where the BSA’s approval was expected to be rubber stamped, Karzai announced that not only was he NOT going to sign the BSA,but that he was making new demands of the US before he would agree to the arrangement. His retreat from signing the BSA was so abrupt and shocking to US officials that they couldn’t believe their ears and “hastened to find a reliable translation of what he said,” assuming that what they were hearing could not be accurate. (“Karzai Insists US Forces Killed Civilians in a Raid,” The NY Times, November 23, 2013.)
But, retreat he did. Now, instead of approving of the security agreement, Karzai was postponing acceptance and adding new demands. He stated he would approve the BSA only if the US immediately ceased night raids on Afghanistan homes and released Afghanistan prisoners from Guantanamo.
It didn’t help Washington’s cause that on the eve of the meeting of the loya jirga, a US airstrike had killed two civilian brothers.
Although Karzai’s very unpopular government cannot survive without US military and economic backing, to approve the status of forces agreement keeping US military forces in Afghanistan operating with impunity will only further isolate his government.
Driving Home “The offer you can’t refuse.”
Following Karzai’s rejection of the security agreement, the US government again ratcheted up the pressure on Karzai. This time, they sent an Iraqi government official to make Karzai’s options clear: The New York Times reported the effort in an article entitled: “A Top Iraqi Official’s Advice to Karzai? Take America’s Deal,” the subhead made explicit the consequences of refusing the US government’s offer: “Warning US Exit May Bring Chaos.” (December 18, 2013)
An Iraqi official, “the longtime foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, had not visited Afghanistan for years, The Times reported, but now used his visit to drive home to Karzai what fate awaited Afghanistan should his government, like the Iraqi government, refuse to allow US military forces to remain active in Afghanistan until 2025 with impunity. “Get over your differences with the Americans and sign the deal,” was Zebari’s message, we are told.
Iraqi official Zebari allegedly warned Karzai that he should not let the Americans leave Afghanistan as they left Iraq – for the departure of US military forces there was followed by an explosion of “hellish violence, with thousands killed.” “American officials, in fact, have long used the withdrawal from Iraq as a cautionary example when talking with reporters and Afghan officials about the struggle to reach an Afghan security deal…and that was the way Mr. Karzai appeared to take Mr. Zebari’s words, to the chagrin of Afghan officials who had hoped their president might take heed of Iraq’s troubles.”
“‘You see?’ Karzai told the small group of Afghan officials after the meeting ended. ‘The Americans want this deal so badly they are even getting the Iraqis to pressure me.'” Mr. Zebari, for his part, according to The Times, insisted that he was “not water-carrying for the Americans.” “Two years after the [US]troop withdrawal, because of the rise of violence, we went back to Washington and asked them for continued support and military help,” Zebari said, “referring to the trip to Washington on November 1 by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki. “One should really draw from that a conclusion.” (Italics added.) In December, the US government did agree to sell Iraq some hellfire missiles and some surveillance drones. These sales, however, benefit only the war profiteers and, of course, are of no use against car bombs at markets or funerals.
Karzai remained adamant against signing the accord. “What I am hearing these days, and what I have already heard, is typical of colonial exploitation.” On that score, he is dead right.
“In any case,” The Times reporter went on, “the specter of Iraq has not just been used as a threat. It has loomed over every step of the debate on a long-term troop presence, both inside the White House and the Afghan presidential palace.
“For the Americans who want to see the troops stay on, the Iraqi example has served as a fallback position. ‘You can point to what’s been happening in Iraq, and you can say, ‘We can’t allow that to happen in Afghanistan,” one senior administration official said.”
“American officials do not want to ‘punish the Afghan people’ because of Mr. Karzai’s intransigence,” a senior administration official said, implicitly admitting that the US government IS punishing the Iraqi people because of al-Maliki’s (and their!) intransigence in refusing to agree to indefinite US military occupation of Iraq with US military forces immune from prosecution under Iraqi law for their crimes.. Of course, it is really the opposition of the people of Afghanistan to continued US military occupation of Afghanistan that is behind Karzai’s “intransigence” on this issue.
And Counterinsurgency All Over Again
Under such circumstances, is Karzai likely in the end to really reject the US government’s offer?
We know that someone is on a serious, relentless, and concerted campaign of murder and destruction in Iraq, targeting civilians. The murderers are using car bombs. Car bombs are the ultimate terror tactic. Stick a bomb to the underside of any vehicle, drive the vehicle into a market area, get out and walk away, detonate it. The perpetrator is scot free. Not a shred of evidence remains. All that remains is a scene of unspeakable carnage.
Considering its past practices, how can one escape deep suspicion that the United States government, which organized, armed, and funded the mysterious death squads in Iraq from 2005-8 – as it has done in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and elsewhere – is behind this current bloody campaign of death? The US government has the means, the experience, the opportunity, and the motive.
Such a terror campaign sets an example for all to see what happens should a government refuse to grant immunity to the forces of the US government, the Great Godfather. But there is also the first goal mentioned above, counterinsurgency.
It is notable that the car bombings began in earnest when an “Arab Spring” seemed to be emerging in Iraq with demonstrations and encampments against the al-Maliki government in Iraq in late January and early February of 2013, raising a whole range of popular demands. (“In Iraq, Protesters Seek Not New Leaders, but Jobs.” The New York Times, February 15, 2013) These were a clear sign that even though they had suffered over a million dead, millions more made lame, orphaned, and widowed, despite the massive destruction of whole cities, the air attacks that destroyed electrical and water purification systems, schools, hospitals and industries, all caused by US war and occupation – despite all this, the Iraqi people were rising again and on the verge of uniting against the US puppet government to regain some of their lost rights.
In fact, the December 2 article cited above also reported that, in Falluja, “gunmen killed the leader of anti-government protests…Khalid al-Jumeili, and his driver.”
The terror campaign of car bombings since April has ended that promising development, as well…for now.
What Is To Be Done?
For starters, we have to campaign to close down the US occupation of Iraq completely, that is, open up the Green Zone and remove every single US military and government operative, official or private contractor. This includes closing down the US Embassy there – the largest US embassy in the world – where covert military operations are usually centered. This will immediately improve security in Iraq.
Second, we need total disclosure of EVERYTHING these personnel and their hirees on every level have been doing in Iraq. We need full transparency as regards what the US government officials and military and “security” personnel have been doing from inside the Green Zone in Baghdad. We need to see ALL the correspondence and orders from the US Military Command and the Central Intelligence Agency concerning the death squads and the current campaign of terror against the people of Iraq. We need to know what those hundreds of private security forces are engaged in. We need to know what covert actions the US State Department, National Security Agency, and Central Intelligence Agency have been involved in inside Iraq since the US official military withdrawal. We have a right to know all this. The people of Iraq have a right to know this. This must be opened to the public for scrutiny.
* The terror attacks in Iraq are also carried out by suicide bombers. Who are these suicide bombers? I posed this question to visiting Afghanistan former parliamentary representative and human rights leader Malalai Joya during her recent US speaking tour. Her response: These are desperate people who agree to blow themselves in exchange for money to their families.
**See Vladimir Lutsky’s A Modern History of the Arab Countries (Progress Publishers, Moscow Academy of Sciences, Institute of the People’s of Asia, 1969) for a detailed description of how capitulation reduced regions and countries with nascent – and sometimes flourishing – industries and vast potential for development into beleaguered sources of plunder for the benefit of the colonial powers.
***Noam Chomsky speaking on Democracy Now!, September 11, 2013.