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The "El Salvador Option"

by Joachim Guilliard Friday, Jun. 03, 2005 at 10:36 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

The US administration recognizes that its troops face a resistance firmly anchored in the population. As a result, it relies on a hidden dirty war..The model for contemporary Iraq is not Vietnam but El Salvador where 70,000 were killed in the 12-year war.

THE “EL SALVADOR OPTION”

Elections, Military Offensives and Death Squads in Iraq – US Strategies of Control in the Occupied Country

By Joachim Guilliard

[This article published in: Junge Welt, 5/19/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.jungewelt.de/2005/05-19/003.php]




The image of the new Iraqi government has already been damaged through the month-long scramble for posts after the January 30 election up to May 4, 2005. Its only possibility for gaining credibility among Iraqis is to seriously support a binding immediate timetable for the American withdrawal. But this government will not do this out of self-interest and regard for the actual balance of power since it cannot hold onto power without US protection.

The rulers of the country are the US with its 140,000 soldiers and numerous civilian and military facilities in Baghdad’s “Green Zone.” Everyone who visits Iraq can see how the occupying power has become entrenched for the long run in the country. For example, in camp “Victory North” near the Baghdad airport, the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) over the course of a year has built a whole city consisting of air-conditioned bungalows, gyms, Burger-Kings, an enormous supermarket and everything that is usually part of the American way of life. The city already houses 14,000 soldiers. The camp is twice as large as camp “Bondsteel” in Kosovo, one of the largest US bases overseas.

Altogether fourteen bases are now being built in the region that will accommodate 100,000 soldiers. In the long-term, these permanent entities will be the military base of the “pan-Arabic reformation” mentioned by the prominent conservative US journalist Krauthammer, that “attempt to change the culture of the Middle East,” i.e. to change Arab and Islamic countries from North Africa to the Caspian Sea into pro-western, neoliberal capitalist states.

However all US forces are tied down in Iraq. US commanders report an average of more than 60 attacks daily. Parts of the country have been largely withdrawn from the control of the US army for a long time. The US army could not weaken the resistance either with great offensives or massive attacks on suspected strongholds of their adversaries. On the contrary, the resistance was constantly stronger and more effective militarily. Building a US-led Iraq army lags numerically far behind expectations. The readiness for action of the new police- and army units is weak and their actual loyalty uncertain. The first measure of the US troops during their military offensive “Operation River Blitz” against the resistance in the cities by the Euphrates, according to the Christian Science Monitor, was the arrest of the police of the city.

THE HIDDEN WAR

The occupiers are still in the dark about the strength and organization of their adversary. According to estimates of General Muhammed Schahwani, the head of the new Iraqi secret service appointed by Paul Bremer, 40,000 “hardcore fighters” are supported by 150,000 Iraqis who work as “part-time guerilla fighters,” spies and logistic personnel. These fighters can count on support or toleration by large parts of the population, Schahwani says. Schahwani was head of the secret service under Saddam Hussein before he left the country and joined Ijad Allawi’s National Accord.

The US administration recognized that its troops face a resistance firmly anchored in the population. As a result, it relies increasingly on a hidden “dirty” war. In December 2003 the US journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hirsch revealed programs of the US government that recall the secret service e3xperts in “Operation Phoenix” in Vietnam. According to an article in the US magazine Newsweek, the Pentagon likes to describe these plans as the “Salvador Option” – referring to the successful use of state terror, torture and death squads against oppositional forces in Central America. (1)

As Hirsch uncovered, special units for the targeted liquidation of occupation opponents were trained already in the fall of 2003 with the help of Israeli experts. They have been operating for a long time. (2) On top of this, there is massive use of private mercenaries subject to no control and including many former secret service officers and former members of special units of the army.

For Peter Maass of the New York Times, the model for contemporary Iraq is not Vietnam but El Salvador where from 1980 a rightwing dictatorship with US support fought a leftwing liberation movement. Over 70,000 were killed in the twelve-year war, most of them civilians. (3) However in Iraq a mixture of the two arose. Maass ignored that Iraq is still a militarily occupied country in which 140,000 US soldiers are in direct intervention against a resistance movement that turns first of all against this occupation.

The hidden war should be waged essentially by the allied Iraqis themselves. Ijad Allawi as head of the transitional government did the decisive preliminary work in his term in office with the right of war and building a new “security apparatus.” Much of that reveals the handwriting of US ambassador John Negroponte who pulled the strings in Central America as ambassador in Honduras and sent a series of “advisors” with concrete experiences from this time into the government departments.

“SPECIAL POLICE COMMANDOS”

Shortly after assuming office, Allawi began by building a secret police as the spearhead in combating the rebellion. As security advisor for the new “General Security Directorate” (GSD), he appointed general major Adnan Thavit al Samarra’I, a former high secret service officer of Saddam Hussein who was involved in Allawi’s failed putsch in 1996.


Seemingly overnight, new paramilitary units appeared that are also connected with the “Salvador option” and call to mind the rightwing paramilitary in Colombia. At least six of these militias called “pop-ups” by the US military are spread over all Iraq. The relatively well-paid fighters come mainly from the security services and special units of the army of the old regime and have the clannish spirit and discipline missed by the US in the regular Iraqi military and police forces.

The strongest of these heavily armed militias, the “special police commandos,” consists of 5000 to 10,000 fighters. They were involved in the attack on Samarra in October 2004 that was a test run for the storm on Falludscha. The “commandos” operate in Mosul, Ramad and other centers of resistance. Their commanded is the security advisor Adnan Thavit, one of Allawi’s closest allies and grandson of the former Interior minister Falah Al Naqib. Its fighters were police who earlier had “experiences in the struggle against terrorism” and received special training under the former regime.

At least two other militias, the Muthana brigade and the “Defenders of Khadamiya” have direct connections with Allawi. They receive massive support from the Pentagon. The total strength of these new irregular brigades seen by US commanders as the new avant-garde in the struggle against the rebellion is estimated at over 15,000 men. The Pentagon has bred new warlords since the loyalty of the militia-men is to their respective leaders and not to the occupying power.

The term “pop-ups” is misleading. The militias did not mushroom up overnight. The first plans for creating these units were forged at the end of 2003 in meetings between the CIA and Allawi as a private part of the “transition concept.” Allawi had announced the formation of these “special police units” even before assuming office.

Units of the US marines maintain their own militias, e.g. the “Iraqi Freedom Guard” and the “Freedom Fighters.” They are composed mainly of radical Shiites from the South and were used in operations of the Marines in the Al-Anbar province, one of the centers of resistance against Sunnite resistance fighters.

DEATH SQUADS

On the basis of statements of General Wayne Downing, the former head of all US special forces who is now retired, death squads are operating in these new commandos. In a television interview, Downing described the operation of these paramilitary units as reliable and useful and added that the US now had “special police commandos” in Iraq who “carry out these offensive operations.” A whole series of incidents corroborates this statement.

The brutality of these special brigades against suspects has been proven. Peter Maass was a repeated witness of grave abuses of suspects by Thavit’s “commandos” always accompanied by a smaller US unit. He heard reports from US soldiers about brutal torture in the prisons. (4)

The US army tries to stylize brutality as a result of Iraqi “tradition.” However leading “US advisors” of the militias had years of concrete experiences from Central America. For example, James Steele who “advised” the death squads of the government in El Salvador in the 1980s as head of a special unit of the US army was directly involved in building and deploying the new militias. Steve Casteel, “advisor” in the Iraqi “ministry of the interior” who was engaged in the dirty drugs- and anti-guerilla war in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia has a similar career.

“When the media described the elections as a triumph of the Bush administration, US economist and media critic Edward S. Herman said, “they give the government a free hand as in the earlier Vietnamese and Salvadorian elections, partly as justification for aggression and occupation.” The US will “intensify its program of liberation through force to marginalize the rebellion and prepare the ground for the rule of groups deeply committed to the invaders/occupiers,” Herman says. As Seymour Hirsch showed in “We’ve Been taken Over by a Cult” (5), “the government constantly escalated its bombing attacks month after month and thus turned all Iraq into a `free fire zone’ - `Strike everything, kill everyone’ is almost unreported in the media. We can expect more of this.” (6)

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