State-funded gang war brings “peace” to Baghdad, from “Shotgun Wedding: The Saint, the Insurgent and the Surge’s ‘Success'” by Chris Floyd

November 21st, 2007

Although 2007 will have seen the largest number of American military deaths in Iraq and the passing of the one million mark in Iraqi civilians killed, there has been much triumphant harrumphing of late about a slight drop in the horrific death count in Iraq — proof, we are told, for the umpteenth time, that the war of aggression has finally turned the corner (i.e., the conquered people have finally been beaten into submission).

To the extent that there has been any lessening of the ongoing slaughter for a short period, much of that can be put down to a factor little discussed in the American media-political bubble (at least not in terms of stark reality): the fact that the White House and St. Gen. David Petraeus have simply legitimized what used to be recorded as terrorist acitivity by paying the former killers of Americans to kill and repress other Iraqis. Thus, in some areas of Baghdad now controlled by American-paid, American-armed Sunni extremist militias, executions, mass killings, horrific torture, kidnapping and rampant extortion still go on — but these are no longer counted as insurgent violence. These horrors are now regarded as legitimate police actions by concerned citizens groups — almost all of them former close allies of the most savage sectarian bands (now loosely called al Qaeda by everyone, regardless of any actual relationship, however tenuous, to the gang of one-time CIA ally Osama bin Laden).

In other words, Bush and St. David are now giving American taxpayer money — and copious amounts of arms, equipment and flash vehicles — to those responsible for some of the most sickening assaults on innocent life since Bush destroyed Iraqi society and plunged it into sectarian warfare, which the Administration has encouraged and exacerbated at every step.

This is one way of keeping the American death count down: you just turn over various walled enclaves in Baghdad to a band of thugs in your pay, lard them with guns and money, then get the hell out of Dodge, letting the thugs do what they will. It is absolutely vital for the Washington warmongers to keep the American death count low. As long as only two or three Americans are being killed every day or so, they can keep a lid on the rising but still very manageable popular discontent with the war back home. The increased use of airpower — blunderbuss assaults on civilian areas with bombs and attack helicopters — also helps toward this goal. And, as noted, it also helps lower the official numbers on terrorist violence, following the age-old tradition of U.S. foreign policy: if somebody is killing, raping and torturing with our money, in our name, why then, it can’t be terrorism. It’s just a grassroots initiative to restore law and order, and bring freedom to benighted peoples.

… In Saturday’s Guardian, the paper’s remarkably courageous man in Baghdad, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, gives us a vivid portrait of one of these American-paid gangs in action. It is the tale of Abu Abed, a violent, neurotic, vainglorious killer of Americans (and former intelligence officer for Saddam Hussein) who has been crowned by none other than St. David himself to rule as undisputed king over the walled Baghdad ghetto of Ameriya:

Abu Abed, a member of the insurgent Islamic Army, has recently become the commander of the US-sponsored Ameriya Knights. He is one of the new breed of Sunni warlords who are being paid by the US to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The Americans call their new allies Concerned Citizens…A former intelligence officer and a pious Sunni, Hajji Abu Abed has the aura of a mafia don. And for Abu Abed, like a don, connections are everything. His office is decorated with pictures of him hugging US officers, including the senior commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus…On Abu Abed’s desk stands a glass box containing a black suede cavalry hat and a letter proclaiming him an honorary US cavalryman.

The Americans pay him $400 (£200) a month for each fighter he provides, he said, and he had 600 registered. His men are awed by his courage, his piety and his neurotic rages…

Abu Abed began hugging St. David — and taking the Saint’s payoffs — after falling out with al Qaeda in a dispute over loot. The Qaedas were demanding a 25 percent cut of all swag to fund their self-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Iraq; Abu Abed balked at the demand, and decided to eliminate his rivals. But he was outgunned his fellow sectarians, so he turned to the Americans.

… And how is the huggable Abu Abed bringing the blessing of freedom to his fiefdom? Like so:

When we arrived at the house where [an] alleged al-Qaida commander was hiding, Bakr [Abu Abed’s head of intelligence] was already in action. He was dragging a plump man into a car, grabbing his neck with one hand and his BKC machine gun with the other. The horrified man begged them not to take him. By Allah, I didn’t say Qaida is better than you, you are our brothers, just let me go! A gunman kicked the man and pushed him into a car.

The suspect’s brother, still in his pyjamas, pleaded, and women in nightgowns stood in the street wailing and begging the gunmen to release him. The gunmen pointed their guns at the people and pushed them back. A young fighter carrying an old British sub-machine gun fired a burst into the air.

Abu Abed walked into the scuffle. The detained man was not the [alleged al Qaeda] target. Someone had overheard him saying Abu Abed’s men were worse than al-Qaida after Bakr’s men raided the house. Furious at the insult, Abu Abed aimed his gun at the brother. Al-Qaida is better than us, huh? Did you forget when the bodies were piled in the streets?

Some neighbours intervened, and the man was released. His brother grabbed him by the arm and pushed him inside. Abu Abed, shaking his head and waving his gun, walked back to his car, murmuring Al-Qaida, better than us…

He stopped in mid-stride and turned to charge with his men back into the house. They pushed the gate open and ran inside firing their weapons in the air. In the dark kitchen, they grabbed the man again, pushed him to the floor and kicked him. The women were screaming and crying. One of them pulled away her headscarf and wailed, holding on to the man’s ripped shirt as Abu Abed and the gunmen dragged him out, kicking and slapping him. Other fighters fired their Kalashnikovs in the air. The man was shoved into a car, as was his brother.

Abu Abed, screaming and pointing his gun, charged at the crowd. Qaida is better than me? I will show you! He held his gun high and quoted al-Hajjaj, a 7th-century ruler of Iraq, in a hoarse voice: Oh, people of Iraq, I had come to you with two swords, one is for mercy which I have left back in the desert, and this one — he pointed his gun at the crowd —is the sword of oppression, which I kept in my hand.

The convoy drove off, sirens blaring, fighters hanging out of the car windows.

Al Qaeda is not Abu Abed’s only enemy, of course. In addition to constantly threatening to renege on his deal with his new best friends — the Americans he used to kill — if they don’t properly acknowledge his authority, Abu Abed is also violently attacking forces aligned with the Iraqi government:

That night, Abu Abed decided to attack another group of Ameriya Knights under his general command. He suspected their commander, Abu Omar, was allied with the vice-president’s Islamic party, which has been trying to control the Sunni area.

I have to show them there is one commander. If the Americans don’t like it, I will withdraw my men, he told me. Let’s see if they can fight al-Qaida alone. By sunset, his men were gathered in front of the house again. He distributed extra guns and he carried an extra shotgun with his machine gun.

… Abu Omar’s men were rounded up. Some were put in pick-up trucks, others were squeezed in car boots. By the light of headlamps, Abu Abed’s men looted weapons, ammunition boxes and radios.

One terrified child was brought for questioning. Where are Abu Omar’s sniper rifles? Abu Abed asked him.

I don’t know, replied the boy.

Look, this head of yours, I will cut it off and put it on your chest if you don’t tell where the guns are by tomorrow. He tried to put his shotgun in the boy’s mouth but his men restrained him.

–From Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque (2007-11-10): Shotgun Wedding: The Saint, the Insurgent and the Surge’s Success.

An Iraqi boy peered Tuesday inside a car that was towed to a Baghdad police station after two women inside were killed.

October 11th, 2007

Here is a photo of an Iraqi boy peering through the windows of a white Oldsmobile at a Baghdad police station. The driver-side door is streaked with blood.

BAGHDAD, Oct. 9 — Two women died here on Tuesday when their white Oldsmobile was riddled by automatic gunfire from guards for a private security company, just weeks after a shooting by another company strained relations between the United States and Iraq.

The guards involved in the Tuesday shooting were working for an Australian-run security company. But the people they were assigned to protect work under the same United States government agency whose security guards sprayed bullets across a crowded Baghdad square on Sept. 16, an episode that caused an uproar among Iraqi officials and is still being investigated by the United States.

In the Tuesday shooting, as many as 40 bullets struck the car, killing the driver and the woman in the front seat on the passenger side. A woman and a boy in the back seat survived, according to witnesses and local police officials in the Karada neighborhood, where the shooting took place on a boulevard lined with appliance stores, tea shops and money changers.

American government officials said the guards had been hired to protect financial and policy experts working for an organization under contract with the United States Agency for International Development, a quasi-independent State Department agency that does extensive aid work in Iraq.

The organization, RTI International, is in Iraq to carry out what is ultimately a State Department effort to improve local government and democratic institutions. But a Bush administration official said the State Department bore no responsibility for overseeing RTI’s security operations.

… The guards who were in the convoy work for Unity Resources Group, an Australian-run company that has its headquarters in Dubai and is registered in Singapore, according to a statement by the company. Unity Resources was hired by RTI to provide security in Iraq.

Andrew E. Kramer and James Glanz, New York Times (2007-10-09): U.S. Guards Kill 2 Iraqi Women in New Shooting

Surging towards Baghdad (or: lies, damn lies, and military press conferences, part 2)

August 29th, 2007

BAGHDAD — Despite U.S. claims that violence is down in the Iraqi capital, U.S. military officers are offering a bleak picture of Iraq’s future, saying they’ve yet to see any signs of reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims despite the drop in violence.

Without reconciliation, the military officers say, any decline in violence will be temporary and bloodshed could return to previous levels as soon as the U.S. military cuts back its campaign against insurgent attacks.

That downbeat assessment comes despite a buildup of U.S. troops that began five months ago Wednesday and has seen U.S. casualties reach the highest sustained levels since the United States invaded Iraq nearly four and a half years ago.

Violence remains endemic, with truck bombs in two northern Iraqi villages claiming the largest single death toll of the war — more than 300 confirmed dead and counting. North of Baghdad, another truck bomb destroyed a key bridge on the road linking the capital to Mosul, the first successful bridge attack since June.

And while top U.S. officials insist that 50 percent of the capital is now under effective U.S. or government control, compared with 8 percent in February, statistics indicate that the improvement in violence is at best mixed.

U.S. officials say the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital is down 50 percent. But U.S. officials declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don’t support the claim.

The number of car bombings in July actually was 5 percent higher than the number recorded last December, according to the McClatchy statistics, and the number of civilians killed in explosions is about the same.

U.S. officials have said that the new security plan needs time to work. But many have expressed disappointment at the continued sectarian violence.

The military has been trying to stanch that violence by building walls between neighborhoods and around potential bombing targets. But bombings and sectarian violence still take place.

The number of Iraqis killed in attacks changed only marginally in July when compared with December — down seven, from 361 to 354, according to McClatchy statistics.

No pattern of improvement is discernible for violence during the five months of the surge. In January, the last full month before the surge began, 438 people were killed in the capital in bombings. In February, that number jumped to 520. It declined in March to 323, but jumped again in April, to 414.

Violence remained virtually unchanged in May, when 404 were killed. The lowest total came in June, the first month U.S. officials said all the new American troops were in place, with just 190 dead, but then swung back up in July, with 354 dead.

One bright spot has been the reduction in the number of bodies found on the streets, considered a sign of sectarian violence. That number was 44 percent lower in July, compared to December. In July, the average body count per day was 18.6, compared with 33.2 in December, two months before the surge.

But the reason for that decline isn’t clear. Some military officers believe that it may be an indication that ethnic cleansing has been completed in many neighborhoods and that there aren’t as many people to kill.

One officer noted that U.S. officials believe Baghdad once had a population that was 65 percent Sunni. The current U.S. estimate is that Shiites now make up 75 percent to 80 percent of the city.

Leila Fadel, McClatchy Washington Bureau (2007-08-15): Despite violence drop, officers see bleak future for Iraq

John Bruhns: We were told we were there to liberate these people. They were shooting at us.

May 12th, 2007

Here is a video of John Bruhns’ statement against the war in Iraq, an advertisement recorded for MoveOn.org Political Action.

John Bruhns, US Army Infantry Sergeant. Baghdad 2003 – ’04:

One day there was a riot in the Abu Ghraib market area.

We had 2,000 people from the community protest our presence in their country. These were not terrorists.

We were told we were there to liberate these people. They were shooting at us.

To keep American soldiers in Iraq for an indefinite period of time, being attacked by an unidentifiable enemy, is wrong, immoral, and irresponsible.

Announcer:

Support our troops. Bring them home.

MoveOn.org Political Action, which produced this video, writes: George Bush keeps saying that he’s the one who supports the troops and those of us who want to end the war don’t. Someone has to take him on for that. In order to do that, they are asking for small donations to help buy airtime so that John Bruhns’s statement, and other ads based on statements by veterans of the Iraq War, can be aired on television. You can make a personal contribution online.

BBC: Up to 200 killed in Baghdad bombs

April 19th, 2007
Photos show the Sadriya market in ruins, with the twisted remains of a car smoking and people walking wounded through the streets.

The Sadriya market was being rebuilt after an earlier attack in February which killed more than 130 people. –BBC

Nearly 200 people have been killed in a string of attacks in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad – the worst day of violence since a US security operation began.

In one of the deadliest attacks of the last four years, some 140 people were killed in a car bombing in a food market in Sadriya district.

A witness said the area had been turned into a swimming pool of blood.

The attacks came as PM Nouri Maliki said Iraqi forces would take control of security across Iraq by the year’s end.

As the number of people killed in the Sadriya market bombing continued to climb, Mr Maliki called the perpetrators infidels and ordered the detention of the Iraqi army commander responsible for security in that area.

This monstrous attack today did not distinguish between the old and young, between men and women, he said.

It targeted the population in a way that reminds us of the massacres and genocide committed by the former dictatorship.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the attacks were a horrifying thing, but said insurgents would not derail the ongoing security drive in Baghdad.

Burned alive

The bomb in Shia-dominated Sadriya was reportedly left in a parked car and exploded at about 1600 (1200 GMT) in the middle of a crowd of workers and shoppers.

The market was being rebuilt after it was destroyed by a bombing in February which killed more than 130 people.

The powerful bomb started a fire which swept over cars and minibuses parked nearby, burning many people and sending a large plume of smoke over Baghdad.

Television pictures showed a blasted scene littered with blackened and twisted wreckage.

One witness told the Reuters news agency that many of the victims were women and children.

I saw dozens of dead bodies, the man said. Some people were burned alive inside minibuses. Nobody could reach them after the explosion.

There were pieces of flesh all over the place.

Ahmed Hameed, a shopkeeper in the area said: The street was transformed into a swimming pool of blood.

About an hour earlier, a suicide car bomb attack on a police checkpoint in Sadr City killed 35 people.

Another parked car bomb killed at least 11 people near a hospital in the Karrada district of Baghdad, while in al-Shurja district at least two people were killed by a bomb left on a minibus.

Two other attacks in the capital killed and wounded about 11 more people.

Hospitals in Baghdad were inundated with more than 200 injured people, many of them with serious burns from the bomb at the Sadriya market.

Car and suicide bombings have occurred almost daily in Baghdad in recent months, despite a US-led security crackdown since February.

The bombers are proving that they can slip through the tightened security net and defy the clampdown, says the BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad.

Security handover

Most of the attacks have been in Shia areas, increasing pressure for the Shia militias to step up their campaign of reprisal killings against the Sunni community in which the insurgents are based, says our correspondent.

The attacks in Baghdad came as officials from more than 60 countries attended a UN conference in Geneva on the plight of Iraqi refugees.

The UN estimates up to 50,000 people flee the violence in Iraq each month.

BBC News (2007-04-18): Up to 200 killed in Baghdad bombs

Nation Building in Iraq

December 22nd, 2006

Here is video of a tank rolling up beside a group of Iraqi men sitting on the ground.

There was still some looting going on when we arrived.

And when we came across soldiers, they didn’t seem sure of their role.

The American soldiers are milling about and eventually move over to talk to the Iraqi men. One of them points to a young boy sitting with the men, and says, in English:

That child don’t need to be here. You know where the school is? O.K., that what he need to be doing, not following you.

Here are the faces of several soldiers, waiting for something to happen.

We filmed these G.I.s after they caught a group of Iraqis stealing wood.

One young soldier says,

We trying to stop them from looting, and they don’t understand, so we’ll take that car and we’ll crush it, the United States Army tankers.

Two soldiers draw their handguns and open fire on the empty car, shooting out the windows and the tires. When they finish, the tank rolls up to the front of the car and then over it, smashing the car under its treads. After it finishes, a soldier waves for it to come back, and the tank completely destroys the car as it crushes it in reverse. The horn honks briefly and a broken shell is left behind. The soldiers wave at each other and laugh. The same soldier who explained that they were going to smash the car says,

That’s what you get when you loot.

The narrator returns to say,

Later, the car’s owner told us, I’m a taxi driver. The car was my livelihood.

This video, recently uploaded to YouTube and featured on several weblogs (Geekery Today 2006-12-08, The Disillusioned Kid 2006-12-01, Lenin’s Tomb 2006-12-01), is an excerpt from the PBS Frontline documentary Truth, War, and Consequences, which originally aired in October 2003. The full 90 minute program can be watched online. Immediately before this segment, the interim American governor of Iraq, Lieutenant General Jay Garner, told the Frontline correspondant that more soldiers should have occupied Baghdad in order to keep lawlessness in check.

Testimony of a Kurdish survivor

October 19th, 2006

Two detainees who escaped after last-minute struggles with the Iraqi death squads told of stumbling into the night while a full moon shone down on a ghostly landscape dotted with mass graves and bullet-riddled corpses. Their testimony was the first eyewitness account of mass killings during Saddam’s 1988 Anfal campaign against Iraq’s Kurdish minority, during which prosecutors allege that 182,000 people were slaughtered.

Speaking anonymously from behind a screen, two Kurdish men described how they and their fellow camp inmates were driven to the desert in stinking trucks, stained with urine and faeces.

It was an unpaved road. Our vehicle got stuck in the sand … and we heard gunfire. It wasn’t that close, it was far from us, but we heard screaming and gunfire, one said.

Then it was dark, and they brought a group of people in front of a vehicle. The drivers got out of our vehicles and turned on the headlights, put three lines or four lines of people in front of our vehicle and opened fire.

The News – International (2006-10-19): Kurds tell of mass murder by Saddam death squads

It was dark when they brought a group of people (prisoners) in front of the vehicle. The drivers got out of our vehicles and turned on the headlights, the man said. It was really unbelievable, the number of people being killed like this.

He said some prisoners tried to snatch an automatic rifle from one of their guards, but the prisoners failed to grab the gun because we were so weak.

He said soldiers opened fire, spraying the prisoners with bullets.

I ran and fell into a ditch. It was full of bodies. I fell on a body. It was still alive. It was his last breath, he said.

He was lightly wounded. He took off his clothes in the ditch, thinking he was more likely to blend into the color of the sand if he were naked. He then began running again.

As I was running, I saw many pits, I saw many mounds, and I saw lots of people who had been shot, he said. The desert was full of mounds that had people buried underneath.

The Boston Herald (2006-10-18): Witness in Saddam Hussein trial recalls massacre of Kurdish detainees

United States generals had planned a wider bombing of Baghdad.

July 31st, 2006

AUSTRALIA intervened to stop key US military strikes against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, fearing they might constitute a war crime.

Major General Maurie McNarn, then a brigadier and commander of Australian forces in Iraq, on several occasions played a red card against the American plans, which included hits on individuals. His objections drew anger from some senior US military figures.

In one instance, Major General McNarn vetoed a US plan to drop a range of huge non-precision bombs on Baghdad, causing one angry US Air Force general to call the Australian a pencil dick.

However, US military command accepted Major General McNarn’s objection and the US plans were scrapped.

The revelation of how Australia actively and successfully used its veto power in the 2003 invasion of Iraq is contained in a new book on the US-Australian alliance, The Partnership, by The Weekend Australian’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan.

… The book reveals that Major General McNarn — now the head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation — delivered a great shock to the US when he first used the red card and then put his objections to the proposed US military strike in writing.

Shit, exclaimed one American when he saw the document. What if this leaks? Major General McNarn replied that if the US did not take the illegal action, it would not matter.

As coalition forces prepared plans to take Baghdad, Major General McNarn vetoed three of five proposed US Air Force weapon systems — mostly huge bombs — on the grounds that they were not accurate for a radius of less than 16m and, as a result, were unsuitable for use in a built-up area.

Cameron Stewart, The Australian (2006-07-29): Aussie veto stopped US war crimes