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[casi] Iraq: Counter-insurgency #1

Hi all,

Please, read this material as addenda to my earlier posting entitled: "Iraq,
laboratory of new methodes of counter-insurrection" + "Textbook Repression".

All fears seem to come true.

What it's about is the reverse side of the hailed process of speeding up
targeted military oppression, black ops, assassination squads, counter
insurgency terror etc.  - the more official aspect of this being termed:
Military Operations on Urban Terrain [MOUT]

More on the latter in part #2




1) US media sanctions campaign of atrocities in Iraq
2) Chalmers Johnson on assassination squads



US media sanctions campaign of atrocities in Iraq

By Patrick Martin
17 November 2003

The visible disarray of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, in the wake
of a series of military-political disasters-the shooting down of
helicopters, suicide bombings, the mortar attacks on US occupation
headquarters in the "Green Zone" in central Baghdad-is a turning point in
the war in Iraq.

No one should think that the administration's "exit strategy" from Iraq will
involve a precipitate withdrawal. On the contrary, all indications are that
the White House and Pentagon are preparing an onslaught of military violence
against the resistance in Iraq that will include the most barbaric methods,
including mass killings and the establishment of concentration camps for
suspected opponents.

One way of gauging the plans being discussed at the highest levels of the
administration is to review certain commentaries that have appeared in the
US media in recent weeks urging a more violent and wide-ranging program of
counterinsurgency in Iraq. These columns and editorials are not so much
aimed at American public opinion-that campaign will come when the
circumstances are ripe for it-as at shoring up the administration's own
morale and preparing the ruling elite as a whole for the horrific measures
that will be undertaken.

The spearhead of this media campaign is the Washington Post, the leading
daily in the US capital, which has emerged as the most ferocious and
bellicose supporter of victory in Iraq among those journals formerly
identified with political liberalism.

In an October 29 editorial, headlined "The Ramadan Offensive," the Post
compared recent events in Iraq to the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam
War, which proved to be a turning point in the US defeat. While the
nationwide offensive launched during the Vietnamese new year holiday (Tet)
was a military defeat for the insurgents, the Post argued, it led to a
decisive loss of public support for the war. The danger was that the series
of attacks launched by the Iraqi resistance during the Islamic holy month of
Ramadan could have the same political significance.

"...[I]n light of the steady escalation of enemy attacks, the question is
whether US forces have developed the tactics and drawn on the resources
necessary for the job. More troops, or more troops able to carry out
counterinsurgency operations, would surely help," the editorial argued.
"Waging a more effective campaign of counterinsurgency and reconstruction is
the only responsible way to respond to the enemy's Ramadan offensive."

A week later, the Post published two further commentaries, one in the name
of Arizona senator John McCain, the former Vietnam POW and leading advocate
of sending more US troops to Iraq.

Iraq and Vietnam

"Iraq is not Vietnam," McCain declared. "There is no popular, anti-colonial
insurgency in Iraq. Our opponents, who number only in the thousands in a
country of 23 million, are despised by the vast majority of Iraqis... These
murderers cannot carry the banner of Iraqi nationalism, as Ho Chi Minh did
in Vietnam for decades."

(It is a notable irony that McCain and others who deny the parallels between
Vietnam and Iraq invariably pay tribute to the mass support and popular
legitimacy of the Vietnamese liberation fighters. However, at the time,
while the Vietnam conflict was raging, US government officials generally
described the National Liberation Front (NLF)/Vietcong in the same terms
that Bush & Co. use for today's Iraqi resistance-i.e., as terrorists,
assassins, murderers, supporters of the "dictator" Ho Chi Minh, etc.)
McCain continued: "We lost in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight,
because we did not understand the nature of the war we were fighting and
because we limited the tools at our disposal."

These are words worth pondering. In what way did the US government limit the
tools employed by the military in Vietnam? These included more than 500,000
troops, thousands of warplanes, saturation bombing of both the north and
south of the country, more bomb tonnage that was used in all theaters of
World War II combined, napalm, Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals, and
the most advanced electronic monitoring and booby-trapping available at the

The only weapons in the US arsenal not used-"smart" weapons, fuel-air
explosives and other such weapons not yet being developed-were the atomic
and hydrogen bombs. Those weapons were not used, not so much because of a
self-restraint applied from Washington over their genocidal impact, but
because of the clear danger that the Soviet Union and China, both possessed
of similar armaments, might retaliate in kind.

McCain concludes with a correct observation about the imbecility of the
administration's claims that "Iraqization" is a viable strategy for the war.
"If the U.S. military, the world's best fighting force, cannot defeat the
Iraqi insurgents, how do we expect Iraqi militiamen with only weeks of
training to do any better?" he asks. His conclusion is that the Bush
administration should deploy at least another full division in Iraq, "giving
us the necessary manpower to conduct a focused counterinsurgency campaign
across the Sunni Triangle that seals off enemy operating areas, conducts
search-and-destroy missions and holds territory."

On the same day, a column by the Post's principal foreign columnist, Jim
Hoagland, also called for such an intensive campaign of military reprisals.
Hoagland bemoaned the fact that from May 1 through November 8, 149 American
soldiers had been killed by hostile fire in Iraq, while zero Iraqis had been
executed or imprisoned for those attacks.

Again, this remark deserves some consideration. Why should Iraqis firing on
American troops be tried as criminals and imprisoned or executed? The United
States invaded their country. The war never came to an official end. The
government of Saddam Hussein did not surrender, it simply went into hiding.
US military officials-most recently the top US commander in Iraq, General
Ricardo Sanchez-routinely refer to the ongoing conflict as a war. Iraqis
captured while engaged in armed resistance to the US occupation are
therefore prisoners of war, entitled to treatment as POWs under
international law and the Geneva Convention.

Hoagland, a longtime supporter of the exile groups like the Iraqi National
Congress of Ahmed Chalabi, calls for the Pentagon to make use of these
forces against the resistance: "[T]he occupation authorities should
immediately empower Iraqi militias and other local security forces to help
hunt down and deal with the ex-Baathists who form the core of the
insurgency." This amounts to supporting the establishment of an Iraqi
version of the Latin American death squads formed under US auspices in the
1970s and 1980s to exterminate leftist guerrillas and political activists.

The Post columnist bemoans the US military's fixation with winning over
public opinion in the Sunni-populated region north and west of Baghdad,
where the guerrilla attacks have been concentrated. Hoagland argues that the
Sunni population as a whole must be made to take responsibility, because
they "seem to have willingly become the sea in which the insurgent fish
He concludes with a piece of sarcasm directed against the military command's
alleged preoccupation with convincing, rather than coercing, the Sunnis:
"Emphasizing the wonders of democracy will have much less immediate effect
on them than will emphasizing the price they will have to pay for continuing
to let the killer fish swim in their midst."

Hoagland does not spell out in detail what that price will be. For that, and
for sheer bloodthirstiness, one has to turn, on the one hand, to the New
York Times-the erstwhile mouthpiece of establishment liberalism-and, on the
other, to the media empire of Rupert Murdoch, the ultra-right proprietor of
Fox television and a stable of newspapers worldwide, including the New York
In its Sunday, November 16, edition, the Times carried a column by Max Boot,
also a frequent contributor to the right-wing editorial pages of the Wall
Street Journal.

Boot begins by acknowledging that the grievous losses suffered by US forces
in Iraq this month "lends credence to critics who see parallels with

He goes on to assert that the US can "learn important lessons from that
earlier war about how to deal with the insurgency."
In particular, Boot advocates that the US military occupation reprise the
methods employed in Operation Phoenix in Vietnam. This CIA-Special Forces
operation employed assassination squads that hunted down and killed some
26,000 suspected supporters of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front,
including political activists, village leaders, workers and farmers.
In addition to mass killing, Boot proposes torture as the appropriate
instrument for bringing "democracy" to Iraq." Iraqis, he says, should be
recruited for this dirty work.

"Our military-which is court-martialing an Army lieutenant colonel who fired
his pistol into the air to scare an Iraqi suspect into divulging details of
an imminent attack-may simply be too Boy Scoutish for the rougher side of a
dirty war," writes Boot. "Iraqis who suffered under Saddam Hussein's tyranny
likely feel no such compunctions."

On November 5, Murdoch's New York Post carried a column by retired colonel
Ralph Peters, a military commentator who is frequently published in the Wall
Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and other major dailies.

Peters starts his column with the ritual assertion that the occupation of
Iraq is going "vastly better than the media suggests," then outlines a
program of action on the ground that presupposes the opposite-that the US
faces an opposition so widespread and powerful that only the bloodiest of
measures can be successful.

"First," Peters argues, "we need to stop pandering to the Sunni-Arab
minority that spawns terror and revels in atrocity. Aspects of our
occupation policy have been naively one-sided-all carrot, no stick.

"We need to have the guts to give at least one terrorist haven a stern
lesson as an example to the others. Fallujah is the obvious choice.

"If the populace continues to harbor our enemies and the enemies of a
healthy Iraqi state, we need to impose strict martial law. Instead of
lavishing more development funds on the city-bribes that aren't working-we
need to cut back on electricity, ration water, restrict access to the city
and organize food distribution through a ration card system."

This program of starvation and oppression is to be applied to a city of
450,000 people-about the size of Cleveland, Ohio, or Atlanta, Georgia-with
predictable consequences in terms of civilian casualties.

Peters also advocates the economic strangulation of the Sunni-dominated
region-where about 5 million of Iraq's 23 million people live-by awarding
Iraq's oil wealth exclusively to the other population groups. The northern
oil fields should be handed over to the Kurds, while the southern oil fields
go to the Shiites, leaving the Sunnis with "a disarmed, resource-poor"
region in the center of the country.

Finally, Peters draws a broader lesson from the experience of Iraq. The
United States will undoubtedly be invading and occupying other countries in
the future, he says, and it must prepare accordingly.

"We're overdue to take a lesson from the Romans and the British before us
and recognize the value of punitive expeditions," he declares. "Exemplary
punishment may be out of fashion, but it's one of the most enduringly
effective tools of statecraft. Where you cannot be loved, be feared."

Does Peters advocate the methods the Romans used against Carthage-leveling
the city and sowing the soil with salt so that nothing would ever grow
again? Or perhaps the tactics of the British against rebellious tribesmen in
Iraq in the early 1920s, when Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill ordered
the use of warplanes that machine-gunned desert oases and dropped poison gas
on the insurgents?

Peters omits from his list of examples a more recent and notorious
practitioner of the "punitive expedition"-the Nazi regime in World War II,
which carried out atrocity after atrocity in the name of retribution against
resistance fighters. But it is to methods like those of the Gestapo and the
Waffen SS that the US occupation in Iraq will increasingly turn.


Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson on assassination squads

Amid panicky strategy changes in Iraq and Washington, it's easy enough right
now to overlook the consistency in Bush administration policies, but
Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback, highlights one powerful consistency
below -- the administration's urge to relegate national sovereignty only to
us. For Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and their chums, all borders are made
be crossed except, of course, our own. We have, in fact, ever less
hesitation about crossing other people's borders armed and with impunity --
and, in the case Johnson highlights below, with assassination on the brain.

In the meantime, Rumsfeld has been in Japan demanding that any of our
soldiers charged with crimes there "be protected by legal guarantees similar
to those they would receive at home. The Japanese government," reports Thom
Shanker of the New York Times, "balks at giving Americans more legal
privileges than its own citizens, especially in cases of serious crimes that
outrage Japanese communities already chafing under the American military

Now, think about the protections that foreign citizens receive at our hands.
Think Guantanamo. Think of that fellow with dual Canadian-Syrian citizenship
who was picked up at a New York airport on his way back to Canada from a
vacation in Tunisia and promptly deported to Syria where he was jailed and
tortured for ten months. Our globe is now seen as a vast one-way
thoroughfare with green lights as far as the Bush administration can see and
only red lights running in the other direction. As in Iraq, when some group
refuses to act by such rules, Bush's men are flabbergasted. They were never
made for a world in which any of the lights heading our way were green.

Johnson's piece is really now part of an inadvertent series that includes
recent dispatches of mine and Mike Davis's The Scalping Party, all focusing
on the widening path to war crimes.

If, by the way, you want to see his latest piece on the status of our wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan, check out Hawks come home to roost -- in (bizarrely
enough) Rupert Murdoch's flagship newspaper, the Australian. His new book on
American militarism, The Sorrows of Empire, will be published this January.

Assassins R Us
By Chalmers Johnson

As the Iraqi resistance expands and perfects its attacks, the American
military, like so many occupying armies before it, is turning to methods of
warfare long outlawed by civilized nations -- assassinations and reprisals
against civilians. When it comes to the first, Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld has long been on record as wanting Saddam Hussein and the leaders
of al-Qaeda and the Taliban brought in "dead or alive," with emphasis on the
former. Now, according to a November 7th front-page piece in the New York
Times, the Pentagon, in conjunction with the CIA, has announced the creation
of a new "task force" -- polite language for an assassination squad -- to
accomplish these ends. "The new Special Operations organization," according
to reporters Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, "is designed to act with greater
speed on intelligence tips about 'high-value targets' and not be contained
within the borders where American conventional forces are operating in Iraq
and Afghanistan." In other words, this death squad, composed of U.S. Army
Special Forces troops, can run down its quarry in countries like Yemen,
Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan but presumably also (if the occasion required it)
in France, Germany, or even the United States itself.

The contradictions inherent in this plan are striking and tell us a great
deal about what it means to be the lone planetary superpower. Although the
Bush administration has refused to join the new International Criminal Court
because it allegedly threatened our sovereignty, we now openly say that
nobody else's sovereignty means anything to us at all. Without debate or
oversight by elected officials, we are seemingly adopting a militarized
version of globalization -- sending "terminator" squads wherever we want to
whenever we care to -- whose operations will inevitably change the nature of
our world, no matter how any individual attack may sort itself out. The
concept of sovereignty -- that national governments exercise supreme
authority within their own borders -- is the bedrock of global order.
Without it, we open the door to anarchy.

Something like this plan for officially sanctioned assassinations has been
in the cards for some time. On November 4, 2002, the Bush administration
acknowledged that it had carried out a strike in Yemen, violating that
country's sovereignty. Using an armed "Predator" unmanned surveillance
aircraft monitored by CIA operatives based at a French military facility in
Djibouti and at CIA headquarters in Virginia, the U.S. released a Hellfire
missile that destroyed an SUV said to contain a senior al-Qaeda terrorist.
Not only was the vehicle so completely vaporized that this claim cannot be
verified, but the nature of the strike itself -- coming after the Yemeni
government reportedly refused to act on information passed to it by the
CIA -- must give pause to other governments. Why couldn't a Hellfire missile
released from a remote-controlled drone be used to destroy reputed
terrorists in the Philippines, in Singapore, or in Germany, regardless of
what a local government might think or wish? It would be prudent for our
leaders to remember that sovereignty only makes sense when it is honored by
all nations reciprocally. The day could come when the United States might be
vulnerable to another country's use of such missiles against the homes and
offices of supporters of, say, Israel or Taiwan.

Secretary Rumsfeld is, in fact, taking a leaf out of the play-book of
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. He has long employed hit-squads against
Palestinian and Hamas leaders who displeased him, and he is on record as
having seriously considered "taking out" President Arafat. Just as Sharon
and his government are indifferent to the collateral damage caused by their
missile assaults, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of all U.S. military
forces from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, invariably uses the word
"terrorist" to describe Iraqi resistance fighters. Calling guerrilla
fighters "terrorists" allows American soldiers great leeway in avoiding
responsibility when, for instance, they shoot unarmed civilians at
checkpoints because they failed to obey shouted orders, which they may not
have understood, fast enough.

Equally important under this rubric, Abizaid is opening the way to the
authorization of indiscriminate reprisals against defenseless Iraqis.
Frustrated by the deaths of thirty-eight U.S. soldiers during the first half
of November, the U.S. high command has already launched Operation Ivy
Cyclone, using F-16 fighters to drop 500-pound bombs on Tikrit and Falluja.
This was immediately followed by Operation Iron Hammer within Baghdad
itself, employing Apache attack helicopters and paratroopers in armored
vehicles to blow up civilian properties the military thinks might have been
involved in the planning of ambushes -- or that are just prominent places
upon which to showcase America's military might. It appears that "staying
the course" in Iraq may soon enough involve smaller scale versions of those
Vietnam staples, the saturation bombing of cities and towns, the herding of
civilians into barbed-wire enclosed "strategic hamlets," and a rerun of the
Phoenix Program in which the CIA and Special Forces assassinated some 30,000
suspected Viet Cong leaders.

Not only is this thuggish behavior completely unacceptable under
international law but, as in Israel, it is unlikely to achieve the ends that
are so confidently being predicted. (The term "thuggish" derives from a 13th
century Indian secret society that worshiped the Hindu goddess of
destruction, Kali. "Thugs" would infiltrate a party of travelers and when
the moment was right on some remote stretch of road, they would strangle
their prey with "Kali's skirt hem," a strip of cloth.) As Milt Bearden, who
was the head of CIA operations in Afghanistan during the late 1980s,
observed in a New York Times op-ed, "For every mujahedeen killed or hauled
off in raids by Soviet troops in Afghanistan, a revenge group of perhaps a
half-dozen members of his family took up arms. Sadly, this same rule
probably applies in Iraq."

Bearden went on to argue, "There [are] two stark lessons in the history of
the 20th century: no nation that launched a war against another sovereign
nation ever won. And every nationalist-based insurgency against a foreign
occupation ultimately succeeded." Actually, of course, he overlooks
America's attacks against small Latin American countries like Nicaragua,
Panama, and Grenada, each of which resulted in putative "victories."
Nonetheless, it would be useful if the war-lovers of the Pentagon would
contemplate Bearden's lessons.

Another result of our government's taking the law into its own hands is to
deceive the public about what is going on -- leading often to a violent
reaction against politicians and complicit journalists when the truth
finally comes out (recall the post-Watergate Church committee hearings). It
also raises the level of callousness throughout our society. Assassinations
and reprisals do nothing to advance national policies, but they do harden
and numb the consciences of ordinary American citizens and instill in our
armed forces the most corrosive of all emotions: guilt.

If Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, or Saddam Hussein are actually killed by
the military's special assassination squad, a very large proportion of
Middle Easterners simply will not believe it. Not even bodies put on display
or DNA tests can alter that fact. After the massive campaign of false
information that preceded our invasion of Iraq, it is doubtful that any
foreigner would today trust anything said by our Department of Defense or
Central Intelligence Agency. The only thing that might work would be good
police work, leading to the capture of terrorist leaders and their
conviction at a trial based on evidence presented before an international

Secretary Rumsfeld nonetheless seems to believe that the deaths of these men
will halt or seriously cripple the attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here,
too, he is undoubtedly wrong. First of all, many of the so-called terrorists
are in fact nationalists whose targets are not unarmed civilians but easily
identified military occupiers who, the Iraqis believe with some evidence,
invaded their country to steal their resources. As ever, one man's terrorist
is another man's freedom fighter. Second, the actions are usually the work
of small groups or cells, and the deaths of one or two leaders, however
prominent, are unlikely to stop them. New leaders will arise to take their
place, and the guerrillas are likely to redouble their efforts spurred on by
the "martyrdom" of those who are killed. Think Ireland, Colombia, Vietnam,
Chechnya, and many other places and occasions.

The Bush administration evidently imagines that opposition to its occupation
in Iraq will lessen or disappear once people there know for sure that Saddam
Hussein will not be back. I predict that quite the opposite will occur. The
Iraqi Sunnis without Saddam will quickly rally around a new leader (or
leaders) and redouble their efforts to kick out the Americans and claim the
nationalist credit for doing so; the Shiites -- once they realize the coast
is temporarily clear -- will struggle ever harder against both the U.S. and
the Sunnis for an Islamic state under their control; and the Kurds, seeing
the way the wind is blowing, will demand a state of their own.

This may be what Secretary Rumsfeld also foresees in his more pessimistic
moments and why he sometimes says that the U.S. will have to remain in Iraq
for at least a decade. But even if we were to garrison every town and
village in the country, we could neither control nor stop this process. Some
people say the U.S. should at least be praised for getting rid of Saddam. I
believe that years from now we may come to understand why it took a leader
so brutal to temporarily weld together these disparate peoples into a
semblance of a nation-state. Think Stalin and the now dissolved USSR. Once
the Soviet Union's control apparatus was discredited, rule from Moscow
disintegrated. Russia today is only a shadow of the former USSR and has a
national economy about the same as the Netherlands.

Iraq was a place to steer clear of, not one where our armed missionaries,
the U.S. Army, should have tried out their nonexistent nation-building

Chalmers Johnson is author of Blowback. His new book, The Sorrows of Empire,
will be published by Metropolitan Books on January 1.
Copyright C2003 Chalmers Johnson

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