Thursday, December 01, 2005

Know what you are supporting

My guess is that if you mentioned Badr Brigade or Wolf Brigade to most people they would have no idea what you were talking about. If US policy is to support and defend what passes for legitimate government in Iraq, then a clear understanding of how that government works is in order.

This from The Council on Foreign Relations website:

There is a growing chorus of complaints from Sunni Arab leaders that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) has been infiltrated by Shiite militias that engage in torture, kidnappings, and, in some cases, deaths squads against Sunnis. Though Iraq’s leadership downplays these outbreaks of violence, experts say there is widespread evidence that an increasing number of members of the Mahdi Army, led by the hot-headed Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Badr Organization are joining the ranks of Iraq’s military and engaging in paramilitary-style policing methods.

These militias have put the U.S. government in a difficult bind: On one hand, experts say, these groups are effective in fighting the Sunni-led insurgency. Last year, the U.S. military fought alongside militia groups in counterinsurgency operations in Mosul and Samarra. On the other hand, these groups are fueling sectarian tensions and infiltrating the military, which raises doubts as to where these soldiers’ allegiance lies.
But U.S. officials seem unworried by the spread of militias. “They are increasingly an Iraqi problem, not a U.S.problem,” says a senior Defense Department official who preferred not to be named. Though Iraqi militias were technically banned by the
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in June 2004, the U.S. military is “encouraging existing militias into the security services—that is true,” says the Defense Department official. “We continue to examine their loyalties but also are trying to build loyalty [to the Iraqi state].”
The Badr Organization, formerly known as the Badr Brigade, was built by Iraqi Shiite defectors and soldiers captured by Iran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Its members were funded, trained, and equipped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. In 2003, the 10,000-strong militia changed its name from the Badr Brigade to the Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development after pledging to disarm and devote itself to peaceful purposes and is now the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shiite opposition party founded in 1982 by Iraqi exiles in Iran. SCIRI, which has emerged as Iraq’s most powerful political party, advocates the creation of a separate, Shiite-run region comprising nine oil-rich provinces in southern Iraq. In a rare November 27 interview with the Washington Post, SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz Hakim, downplayed his organization’s ties to Iran and denied accusations that the Badr Organization practiced torture or targeted Sunni Arabs.
One of the Badr Organization’s offshoots is the Wolf Brigade, a unit of roughly 2,000 special commando police officially under the Ministry of the Interior that is among Iraq’s most feared groups. Last November, the brigade—which was formed in the fall of 2004 by a former three-star Shiite general and SCIRI official whose nom de guerre is Abu Walid—fought alongside U.S.-led forces in Mosul, a Sunni stronghold northwest of Baghdad. Its members dress in garb—olive uniform, red beret, wraparound sunglasses—redolent of Saddam’s elite guard; their armband logo is a menacing-looking wolf. Last December, the Wolf Brigade won further notoriety after the success of Terrorism in the Grip of Justice, a primetime show on U.S.-funded al-Iraqiya television that featured live interrogations of Iraqi insurgents by Wolf Brigade commandos. In one show, Abu Walid questioned around thirty shabbily dressed suspects, some clutching photos of their victims, waiting to confess their crimes.

Folks, there is a lot more going on than is being discussed openly. I don't think The Council on Foreign Relations is a collection from the lunatic fringe. There is a lot to be learned there that decent Americans need to read and study. There are numerous references to torture and other methods of intimidation, not by the "enemy" but on the part of those we are officially training and defending. These are not nice people.

Abu Khaleel in yesterday's post presents what US policy looks like from the Iraqi point of view:

The declared objective is to have a sufficient number of US-trained Iraqi forces to do the job. But what forces? The same forces that have been committing atrocities that are worse than those committed by those infamous bad American apples? The same forces infested and infiltrated by sectarian pro-Iran militias, crooks, thugs and criminals that have been causing havoc in the country, abducting people and arresting then killing them for a variety of known and unknown reasons?

What will that achieve? Only more sectarian strife, more lawlessness and more chaos. And in the unlikely event that they will succeed, we will only have an obnoxious police state.That policy would be as subtle and as ‘thoughtful’ as the bygone policy of winning the hearts and minds of people while humiliating, torturing and killing them and devastating their country. It has about the same chances of success.

It doesn’t make sense… unless, of course, the objective remains to “bomb the living daylight out of them”.

I notice that the President's recent speech distinguished among three categories of Iraqis in a clumsy effort to identify one of those three groups as the ones we are fighting. Also the word "insurgent" is now politically incorrect, replaced with some new phrase or other. (Even Donald Sensing had fun with “enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government” instead of insurgent. His wonderful comment: Ah, that adds clarity.) I can't decide if I am more embarrassed or angry that after three years policy wonks have not done a better job of discernment for the president.

Clearly we cannot discern among the many groups that make up the Iraqi population. I don't know how many there are, but there are a lot more than three. This is a very poor taxonomy to decide whether or not we are supposed to be killing people. And outsourcing the job to thugs is not the best way to create good public relations.

We are not on the side of many angels in Iraq. Our intentions may be good, but our connections are badly out of synch with our ideals. The Badr Brigade and its wicked offspring-- our official allies, incidentally -- do not make the US look any better in the eyes of everyday people there.

To steal a line from Lincoln, you can intimidate all of the people some of the time, or some of the people all of the time, but...well, you know how it goes.

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