(AFP Photo) Iraqis carry the coffin of their relative out of a hospital morgue in Baghdad
Over the past year and a half, a terrifying new development in Iraq
has been the discovery of dozens of bodies dumped in rubbish heaps, rivers or
abandoned buildings. In most cases, the victims had suffered torture and mutilation
before being killed by a single shot to the head. A recent variation of this
theme is simply severed heads. A typical news item which did not cause too many
headlines around the world was typical on 6th June 2006 – 9 heads found
wrapped in plastic bags and left in fruit boxes by the roadside.
These repulsive and revolting images are too much for any news channel to show
and the facts of the killing are merely stated, without any analysis of who
is behind these killings and why. Anyone with any familiarity with American
tactics of counter-insurgency will not be remotely surprised or puzzled by the
grisly news coming out of Iraq every day.
During the 1980’s the U.S. trained, armed and directed ‘death squads’
throughout Central and South America. El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua
and Colombia were amongst the countries who suffered the most. The Latin American
experience was also following on from the U.S. first known death squads; those
in Vietnam. The Vietnamese death squads were given monthly targets by the CIA
to kill. The CIA later admitted that the figure was 1,800 per month to be killed
by their trained and directed death squads.
Guatemala was the one of the worst to suffer, with 200,000 dead and 40,000
missing till today. The suffering in Guatemala was so great and the U.S. link
is so well documented that in 1999, the then President Clinton apologised for
the U.S. role. The experience of the so-called “death squads” in
Central America remains raw for many even now and helped to sully the image
of the United States in the region till this day.
From the time of invasion of Iraq in March 2003 till June 2004, the phenomenon
of death squads was unknown to Iraq and the U.S. soldiers were being killed
and injured daily by the Iraqi resistance, something the Americans were unprepared
for and had not expected. The U.S. response was to send John Negroponte, the
former U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 - during the worst of death
squads operations there, to Baghdad as ‘ambassador’.
Negroponte was notorious during his tenure in Honduras for not only
failing to admit to existence of death squads there, he was almost universally
believed to be directing death squads in both Honduras and Nicaragua.
His appointment as ambassador to Iraq by Bush in June 2004 until April 2005
marked the development and the formation of the now notorious Iraqi death squads.
The fact that death squads were to be formed by the U.S. and let loose on the
long suffering Iraqi population was so widely known and discussed that the US
Newsweek magazine even ran an article speculating about the fact that the U.S.
government was seriously considering the option of following the Latin American
model of simply killing anyone remotely suspected of being against the U.S.
A U.S. military source was quoted by the American media as saying, “The
Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving the terrorists.
… From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”
The traumatized populations of Central America could have told the Iraqis of
the death squad’s methods. People would be kidnapped and tortured by soldiers
who wore uniforms by day but used unmarked cars by night to kidnap and kill
those hostile to the regime or their suspected sympathizers. Witnesses in Iraq
almost always recount that the victims were abducted by people who “came
in white police Toyota Land Cruisers, wore police commando uniforms, flak vests
and helmets” and were armed with 9mm Glock pistols. Glock side arms are
used by many U.S. law enforcement agencies and have been supplied to Iraqi security
forces by the U.S. military.
In Iraq, western news services like the BBC and Reuters would only report that
people were ‘kidnapped by men wearing police uniforms’. Journalists
who try and investigate and expose the U.S. direction are themselves then targeted.
The killing of journalists seeking to document or expose allegations of state-organised
murder has accompanied every dirty war against a civilian population. Since
the U.S. occupation of Iraq began, dozens of reporters, cameramen and other
media workers have been killed by American-led forces in suspicious circumstances
that were never independently investigated.
A typical early example was on June 24 2005, when Yasser Salihee, an Iraqi
special correspondent for the news agency Knight Ridder, was killed by a single
bullet to the head as he approached a checkpoint that had been thrown up near
his home in western Baghdad by U.S. and Iraqi troops. It is believed that the
shot was fired by an American sniper.
According to eyewitnesses, no warning shots were fired. Over the past month,
Salihee had been gathering evidence that U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have been
carrying out extra-judicial killings of alleged members and supporters of the
anti-occupation resistance. His investigation followed a feature in the New
York Times magazine in May 2005, detailing how the U.S. military had modeled
the Iraqi interior ministry police commandos, known as the Wolf Brigade, on
the death squads unleashed in the 1980s to crush the left-wing insurgency in
The Wolf Brigade, the most notorious and best known death squad created, was
funded and directed by the U.S. A majority of its officers and personnel served
in Saddam Hussein’s special forces and Republican Guard—veterans
of killings, torture and repression. The unit has been used against the resistance
in rebellious cities such as Mosul and Samarra, and, over the past year, has
played a vital role in allowing U.S. forces a slight distance from having to
go and do the killing themselves- although as the most well documented events
of Haditha show, the U.S. forces are still massacring Iraqis of all ages themselves.
The main U.S. advisor to the Wolf Brigade from the time of its formation until
April 2005 was James Steele.
Steele’s own biography, states that “he commanded the U.S. military
group in El Salvador during the height of the guerilla war” and “was
credited with training and equipping what was acknowledged to be the best counter-terrorist
force in the region”. In a 12-year campaign of murder and repression,
the Salvadoran units, trained and advised by people like Steele, killed over
The daily appearance of men’s bodies in the main central Baghdad morgue
had “been killed in a methodical fashion” according to the morgue
director, Faqir Baqir. “Their hands had been tied or handcuffed behind
their backs, their eyes were blindfolded and they appeared to have been tortured.
In most cases, the dead men looked as if they’d been whipped with a cord,
subjected to electric shocks or beaten with a blunt object and shot to death,
often with single bullets to their heads.”
In March this year, Mr Baqir was forced to leave Iraq for revealing that over
7,000 victims of the death squads had arrived in his morgue in Baghdad in the
previous few months.
The death squads are particularly busy in the last few months with the rise
in U.S. military casualties. In Mosul, for example, dozens of men were detained
by the commandos in November 2005, as part of a U.S.-led operation to bring
the city back under the occupation control. Over the following weeks, more than
150 tortured and executed bodies were found there. In Samarra, dozens of bodies
appeared in nearby Lake Thartar in the wake of operations by police commandos
in that city. From February till late April 2006, more than 100 bodies were
recovered from the Tigris River south of Baghdad—one of the most rebellious
areas of the country.
The Iraqi government initially claimed they were villagers who had been kidnapped
by “insurgents” in the village of Maidan. This has since been discredited.
The victims are from a range of towns and villages, including Kut in the north
and Basra in the south. Police in the area told journalists that many of the
dead had been “motorists passing through the area when stopped by masked
men bearing Kalashnikov rifles at impromptu checkpoints”.
Other killings have been discovered in Baquba and the Syrian border town of
Qaim in the aftermath of counter-insurgency operations by U.S. forces and their
death squads. The death squads have also been busy as in Latin America in the
assassination of well over 200 university academics, most of whom were opponents
of the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Dozens of bodies have been found over the past
two months in Baghdad. The Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS)—the main
public Sunni organisation opposed to the occupation—directly accused the
Wolf Brigade of having “arrested Imams and the guardians of some mosques,
tortured and killed them, and then got rid of their bodies in a garbage dump
in Shaab district” of Baghdad.
George Bush has declared his administration was working with the Iraqi interior
and defence ministries to “improve their capabilities to coordinate anti-terrorist
operations” and “develop their command and control structures”.
The evidence points clearly that the U.S. is paying and equipping killers to
terrorize, torture and murder Iraqis who are believed to have links to the popular
resistance, which an unnamed U.S. analyst estimated for Newsweek had “as
many as 400,000 auxiliaries and support personnel”. The war in Iraq has
already seriously undermined U.S. standing in the Middle East and around the
Images of U.S. soldiers sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners, putting bags over
the heads of captives and shooting a wounded “insurgent” have blackened
America’s image everywhere and made cooperation with the United States
increasingly difficult even in countries long considered American allies.
A dirty war conducted by the U.S which pits against one ethnic group
will make civil war more likely, which was always a medium-term U.S. goal as
it allows it to follow the classic imperial tactic of ‘divide and rule’.
The very existence of the Wolf Brigade and other death squads underscores the
criminality of the U.S. occupation and the utter fraud of the Bush administration
claims of bringing “liberation” and “democracy” to Iraq.
Amongst the current U.S. officials who played key roles in Central America,
Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central American policies at the State Department
and who is now a Middle East adviser on Bush’s National Security Council
staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central
American policies whilst a member of the House of Representatives.
And what about the man sent by Bush to set up the death squads, Negroponte?
He is now Director of National Intelligence – a body set in 2004 as the
senior most body to oversee all the different U.S. intelligence agencies; including
Negroponte’s deputy, General Hayden, has just been appointed to head
the CIA. No-one in Iraq should expect any accountability or justice for Negroponte,
the CIA or their death squads any time soon. As for Iraq, traumatized by wars
and sanctions, death squads are merely the latest horrific trauma to be inflicted
on them by the U.S.
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