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[casi] Counter-Insurgency: Iraq- Quicksand & Blood

Iraq: Quicksand & Blood

By Robert Parry
November 13, 2003

George W. Bush and his top advisers learned little from the Vietnam debacle
of the 1960s, since most avoided service in the war. But many top Bush aides
played key roles in the repression of leftist peasant uprisings in Central
America in the 1980s, a set of lessons the Bush administration is now trying
to apply to the violent resistance in Iraq.

The key counterinsurgency lesson from Central America was that the U.S.
government can defeat guerrilla movements if it is willing to back a local
power structure, no matter how repulsive, and if Washington is ready to
tolerate gross human rights abuses. In Central America in the 1980s, those
tactics included genocide against hundreds of Mayan villages in Guatemala's
highlands and the torture, rape and murder of thousands of young political
activists throughout the region. [More on this below]
The body dumps that have been unearthed across Central America are thus
little different from the mass graves blamed on Saddam Hussein in Iraq,
except in Central America they represented the dark side of U.S. foreign
policy and received far less U.S. press scrutiny. Another lesson learned
from the 1980s was the importance of shielding the American people from the
ugly realities of a U.S.-backed "dirty war" by using P.R. techniques, which
became known inside the Reagan administration as "perception management."

The temptation to recycle these counterinsurgency strategies from Central
America to Iraq is explained by the number of Reagan-era officials now back
in prominent roles in George W. Bush's administration.

They include Elliot Abrams, who served as assistant secretary of state for
Latin America in the 1980s and is a National Security Council adviser to
Bush on the Middle East; John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the
1980s and now Bush's U.N. Ambassador; Paul Bremer a counter-terrorism
specialist in the 1980s and Iraq's civilian administrator today; Bush's
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was the senior military adviser to
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the 1980s; and Vice President Dick
Cheney, who was a Republican foreign-policy stalwart in Congress two decades

Proxy Army

One important difference between Iraq and Central America, however, is that
to date, the Bush administration has had trouble finding, arming and
unleashing an Iraqi proxy force that compares to the paramilitary killers
who butchered suspected leftists in Central America. In El Salvador,
Guatemala and Honduras, well-established "security forces" already existed.
Plus, in Nicaragua, Ronald Reagan could turn to the remnants of ousted
dictator Anastasio Somoza's National Guard to fashion a contra rebel force.
In Iraq, however, U.S. policymakers chose to disband - rather than
redirect - Saddam Hussein's army and intelligence services, leaving the
burden of counterinsurgency heavily on U.S. occupying troops who are
unfamiliar with Iraq's language, history and terrain.

Now, with U.S. casualties mounting, the Bush administration is scrambling to
build an Iraqi paramilitary force to serve under the U.S.-appointed Iraqi
Governing Council's interior minister. The core of this force would be drawn
from the security and intelligence wings of five political organizations,
including Ahmad Chalabi's formerly exile-based  Iraqi National Congress.
Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on Nov. 10 that the
administration's No. 1 strategy in Iraq is to build an Iraqi security force,
which she claims already numbers about 118,000 people, roughly the size of
the U.S. military contingent in Iraq. Many of these Iraqis have received
speeded-up training with the goal of using them to pacify the so-called
Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.

Earlier, some U.S. officials, including civilian administrator Bremer,
balked at a paramilitary force out of fear it would become a tool of
repression. "The unit that the Governing Council wants to create would be
the most powerful domestic security force in Iraq, fueling concern among
some U.S. officials that it could be used for undemocratic purposes, such as
stifling political dissent, as such forces do in other Arab nations," the
Washington Post wrote.

But faced with the rising U.S. death toll, Bremer no longer has "any
objection in principle" to this concept, a senior U.S. official told the
Post. [Washington Post, Nov. 5, 2003] With all the missteps that have
plagued the U.S. occupation, Bremer appears to understand that the Iraqi
security situation needs to be bolstered - and quickly.

In much of the Sunni Triangle, U.S. control now is intermittent at best,
existing only during heavily armed U.S. forays into resistance strongholds.
"American troops patrol less frequently, townspeople openly threaten Iraqi
security personnel who cooperate with U.S. forces, and the night belongs to
the guerrillas," the Washington Post reported from Thuluiya about 60 miles
north of Baghdad. [Nov. 8, 2003]

One U.S. senator who has visited the region told me that the struggle for
Iraq may take 30 years before a new generation accepts the American
presence. But even taking the long view does not guarantee success. Israel
has been battling to break the back of Palestinian resistance for more than
three decades with no sign that younger Palestinians are less hostile to the
Israeli occupation. The Iraqi insurgency already has spread too far and
penetrated too deeply to be easily uprooted, military experts say.

Central American Lessons

Having lurched into this Iraqi quicksand, the Bush administration is now
searching for lessons that can be gleaned from the most recent U.S.
counterinsurgency experience, the region-wide wars in Central America that
began as uprisings against ruling oligarchies and their military henchmen
but came to be viewed by the Reagan administration as an all-too-close front
in the Cold War.
Though U.S.-backed armies and paramilitary forces eventually quelled the
leftist peasant rebellions, the cost in blood was staggering. The death toll
in El Salvador was estimated at about 70,000 people. In Guatemala, the
number of dead reached about 200,000, including what a truth commission
concluded was a genocide against the Mayan populations in Guatemala's
The muted press coverage that the U.S. news media has given these atrocities
as they have come to light over the years also showed the residual strength
of the "perception management" employed by the Reagan administration. For
instance, even when the atrocities of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios
Montt are mentioned, as they were in the context of his defeat in Guatemala'
s Nov. 9 presidential elections, the history of Reagan's warm support for
Rios Montt is rarely, if ever, noted by the U.S. press.
While the slaughter of the Mayans was underway in the 1980s, Reagan
portrayed Gen. Rios Montt and the Guatemalan army as victims of
disinformation spread by human rights groups and journalists. Reagan huffily
discounted reports that Rios Montt's army was eradicating hundreds of Mayan

On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as
"totally dedicated to democracy" and declared that Rios Montt's government
had been "getting a bum rap." Reagan also reversed President Jimmy Carter's
policy of embargoing military equipment to Guatemala over its human rights
abuses. Carter's human rights embargoes represented one of the few times
during the Cold War when Washington objected to the repression that pervaded
Central American society.

Death Squad Origins

Though many U.S.-backed regimes in Latin America practiced the dark arts of
"disappearances" and "death squads," the history of Guatemala's security
operations is perhaps the best documented because the Clinton administration
declassified scores of the secret U.S. documents in the late 1990s to assist
a Guatemalan truth commission. The Guatemala experience also may be the most
instructive today in illuminating a possible course of the counterinsurgency
in Iraq.

The original Guatemalan death squads took shape in the mid-1960s under
anti-terrorist training provided by a U.S. public safety adviser named John
Longon, the declassified documents show. In January 1966, Longon reported to
his superiors about both overt and covert components of his anti-terrorist

On the covert side, Longon pressed for "a safe house [to] be immediately set
up" for coordination of security intelligence. "A room was immediately
prepared in the [Presidential] Palace for this purpose and . Guatemalans
were immediately designated to put this operation into effect," according to
Longon's report. Longon's operation within the presidential compound became
the starting point for the infamous "Archivos" intelligence unit that
evolved into a clearinghouse for Guatemala's most notorious political

Just two months after Longon's report, a secret CIA cable noted the
clandestine execution of several Guatemalan "communists and terrorists" on
the night of March 6, 1966. By the end of the year, the Guatemalan
government was bold enough to request U.S. help in establishing special
kidnapping squads, according to a cable from the U.S. Southern Command that
was forwarded to Washington on Dec. 3, 1966.

By 1967, the Guatemalan counterinsurgency terror had gained a fierce
momentum. On Oct. 23, 1967, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence
and Research noted the "accumulating evidence that the [Guatemalan]
counterinsurgency machine is out of control." The report noted that
Guatemalan "counter-terror" units were carrying out abductions, bombings,
torture and summary executions "of real and alleged communists."

The mounting death toll in Guatemala disturbed some American officials
assigned to the country. The embassy's deputy chief of mission, Viron Vaky,
expressed his concerns in a remarkably candid report that he submitted on
March 29, 1968, after returning to Washington. Vaky framed his arguments in
pragmatic terms, but his moral anguish broke through.

"The official squads are guilty of atrocities. Interrogations are brutal,
torture is used and bodies are mutilated," Vaky wrote. "In the minds of many
in Latin America, and, tragically, especially in the sensitive, articulate
youth, we are believed to have condoned these tactics, if not actually
encouraged them. Therefore our image is being tarnished and the credibility
of our claims to want a better and more just world are increasingly placed
in doubt."

Vaky also noted the deceptions within the U.S. government that resulted from
its complicity in state-sponsored terror. "This leads to an aspect I
personally find the most disturbing of all -- that we have not been honest
with ourselves," Vaky said. "We have condoned counter-terror; we may even in
effect have encouraged or blessed it. We have been so obsessed with the fear
of insurgency that we have rationalized away our qualms and uneasiness.

"This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it,
for we never really tried. Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good
tactic, and that as long as Communists are being killed it is alright.
Murder, torture and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the
victims are Communists. After all hasn't man been a savage from the
beginning of time so let us not be too queasy about terror. I have literally
heard these arguments from our people."

Though kept secret from the American public for three decades, the Vaky memo
obliterated any claim that Washington simply didn't know the reality in
Guatemala. Still, with Vaky's memo squirreled away in State Department
files, the killing went on. The repression was noted almost routinely in
reports from the field.

On Jan. 12, 1971, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Guatemalan
forces had "quietly eliminated" hundreds of "terrorists and bandits" in the
countryside. On Feb. 4, 1974, a State Department cable reported resumption
of "death squad" activities.

On Dec. 17, 1974, a DIA biography of one U.S.-trained Guatemalan officer
gave an insight into how U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine had imbued the
Guatemalan strategies. According to the biography, Lt. Col. Elias Osmundo
Ramirez Cervantes, chief of security section for Guatemala's president, had
trained at the U.S. Army School of Intelligence at Fort Holabird in
Maryland. Back in Guatemala, Ramirez Cervantes was put in charge of plotting
raids on suspected subversives as well as their interrogations.

The Reagan Bloodbath

As brutal as the Guatemalan security forces were in the 1960s and 1970s, the
worst was yet to come. In the 1980s, the Guatemalan army escalated its
slaughter of political dissidents and their suspected supporters to
unprecedented levels.

Ronald Reagan's election in November 1980 set off celebrations in the
well-to-do communities of Central America. After four years of Jimmy
Carter's human rights nagging, the region's hard-liners were thrilled that
they had someone in the White House who understood their problems.

The oligarchs and the generals had good reason for optimism. For years,
Reagan had been a staunch defender of right-wing regimes that engaged in
bloody counterinsurgency against leftist enemies. In the late 1970s, when
Carter's human rights coordinator, Pat Derian, criticized the Argentine
military for its "dirty war" -- tens of thousands of "disappearances,"
tortures and murders -- then-political commentator Reagan joshed that she
should "walk a mile in the moccasins" of the Argentine generals before
criticizing them. [For details, see Martin Edwin Andersen's Dossier

After his election in 1980, Reagan pushed to overturn an arms embargo
imposed on Guatemala by Carter. Yet as Reagan was moving to loosen up the
military aid ban, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were
confirming new Guatemalan government massacres.

In April 1981, a secret CIA cable described a massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj
in the Ixil Indian territory. On April 17, 1981, government troops attacked
the area believed to support leftist guerrillas, the cable said. According
to a CIA source, "the social population appeared to fully support the
guerrillas" and "the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved."
The CIA cable added that "the Guatemalan authorities admitted that 'many
civilians' were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were

Despite the CIA account and other similar reports, Reagan permitted
Guatemala's army to buy $3.2 million in military trucks and jeeps in June
1981. To permit the sale, Reagan removed the vehicles from a list of
military equipment that was covered by the human rights embargo.

No Regrets

Apparently confident of Reagan's sympathies, the Guatemalan government
continued its political repression without apology.
According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, Guatemalan leaders
met with Reagan's roving ambassador, retired Gen. Vernon Walters, and left
no doubt about their plans. Guatemala's military leader, Gen. Fernando Romeo
Lucas Garcia, "made clear that his government will continue as before --
that the repression will continue."

Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights
Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan
government for "thousands of illegal executions." [Washington Post, Oct. 16,
But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A
State Department "white paper," released in December 1981, blamed the
violence on leftist "extremist groups" and their "terrorist methods,"
inspired and supported by Cuba's Fidel Castro. Yet, even as these
rationalizations were pitched to the American people, U.S. intelligence
agencies in Guatemala continued to learn of government-sponsored massacres.

One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the
so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province. "The commanding
officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and
villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [known as
the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance," the report stated. "Since
the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a
large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed."
The CIA report explained the army's modus operandi: "When an army patrol
meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that
the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed." When the army
encountered an empty village, it was "assumed to have been supporting the
EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees
in the hills with no homes to return to. . The well-documented belief by the
army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a
situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants
and non-combatants alike."

Rios Montt

In March 1982, Gen. Rios Montt seized power in a coup d'etat. An avowed
fundamentalist Christian, he immediately impressed official Washington,
where Reagan hailed Rios Montt as "a man of great personal integrity."

By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign
called his "rifles and beans" policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians
would get "beans," while all others could expect to be the target of army
"rifles." In October, he secretly gave carte blanche to the feared
 "Archivos" intelligence unit to expand "death squad" operations.

The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting
Indian massacres. On Oct, 21, 1982, one cable described how three embassy
officers tried to check out some of these reports but ran into bad weather
and canceled the inspection. Still, the cable put a positive spin on the
situation. Though unable to check out the massacre reports, the embassy
officials did "reach the conclusion that the army is completely up front
about allowing us to check alleged massacre sites and to speak with whomever
we wish."

The next day, the embassy fired off an analysis that the Guatemalan
government was the victim of a communist-inspired "disinformation campaign,"
a claim embraced by Reagan with his "bum rap" comment after he met with Rios
Montt in December 1982.

On Jan. 7, 1983, Reagan lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala and
authorized the sale of $6 million in military hardware. Approval covered
spare parts for UH-1H helicopters and A-37 aircraft used in
counterinsurgency operations. State Department spokesman John Hughes said
political violence in the cities had "declined dramatically" and that rural
conditions had improved too.
In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in "suspect
right-wing violence" with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of
victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these
political murders to Rios Montt's order to the "Archivos" in October to
"apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they
saw fit."

Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human
rights survey sugarcoated the facts for the American public and praised the
supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. "The overall
conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year" 1982, the
report stated.

A different picture -- far closer to the secret information held by the U.S.
government -- was coming from independent human rights investigators. On
March 17, 1983, Americas Watch representatives condemned the Guatemalan army
for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.

New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that
the government carried out "virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women
and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of
guerrilla insurgents."
Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution,
Kass said. Children were "thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the
air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being
picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are
destroyed." [AP, March 17, 1983]

Publicly, however, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face.
On June 12, 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised "positive changes"
in Rios Montt's government. But Rios Montt's vengeful Christian
fundamentalism was hurtling out of control, even by Guatemalan standards. In
August 1983, Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup.

Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to kill those
who were deemed subversives or terrorists. When three Guatemalans working
for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November
1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that "Archivos" hit squads
were sending a message to the United States to back off even the mild
pressure for human rights improvements.

In late November, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration
postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month,
however, Reagan sent the spare parts. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in
pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the
Guatemalan army.

By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army's stubborn
brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named
Alberto Piedra, who was all for increased military assistance to Guatemala.
In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan's
State Department "is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala's
image than in improving its human rights."

Death Camp

Other examples of Guatemala's "death squad" strategy came to light later.
For example, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency cable in 1994 reported that
the Guatemalan military had used an air base in Retalhuleu during the
mid-1980s as a center for coordinating the counterinsurgency campaign in
southwest Guatemala - and for torturing and burying prisoners.
At the base, pits were filled with water to hold captured suspects.
"Reportedly there were cages over the pits and the water level was such that
the individuals held within them were forced to hold on to the bars in order
to keep their heads above water and avoid drowning," the DIA report stated.

The Guatemalan military used the Pacific Ocean as another dumping spot for
political victims, according to the DIA report. Bodies of insurgents
tortured to death and live prisoners marked for "disappearance" were loaded
onto planes that flew out over the ocean where the soldiers would shove the
victims into the water to drown, a tactic that had been a favorite disposal
technique of the Argentine military in the 1970s.

The history of the Retalhuleu death camp was uncovered by accident in the
early 1990s when a Guatemalan officer wanted to let soldiers cultivate their
own vegetables on a corner of the base. But the officer was taken aside and
told to drop the request "because the locations he had wanted to cultivate
were burial sites that had been used by the D-2 [military intelligence]
during the mid-eighties," the DIA report said. [To see the Guatemalan
documents, go to the National Security Archive's Web site.]
Guatemala, of course, was not the only Central American country where Reagan
and his administration supported brutal counterinsurgency operations -- and
then sought to cover up the bloody facts. Deception of the American public -
a strategy that the administration internally called "perception
management" - was as much a part of the Central American story as the Bush
administration's lies and distortions about weapons of mass destruction were
to the lead-up to the war in Iraq.

Reagan's falsification of the historical record became a hallmark of the
conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua as well as Guatemala. In one case,
Reagan personally lashed out at a human rights investigator named Reed
Brody, a New York lawyer who had collected affidavits from more than 100
witnesses to atrocities carried out by the U.S.-supported contras in
Angered by the revelations about his contra "freedom-fighters," Reagan
denounced Brody in a speech on April 15, 1985, calling him "one of dictator
[Daniel] Ortega's supporters, a sympathizer who has openly embraced

Privately, Reagan had a far more accurate understanding of the true nature
of the contras. At one point in the contra war, Reagan turned to CIA
official Duane Clarridge and demanded that the contras be used to destroy
some Soviet-supplied helicopters that had arrived in Nicaragua. In his
memoirs, Clarridge recalled that "President Reagan pulled me aside and
asked, 'Dewey, can't you get those vandals of yours to do this job.'" [See
Clarridge's A Spy for All Seasons.]

`Perception Management'

To manage U.S. perceptions of the wars in Central America, Reagan also
authorized a systematic program of distorting information and intimidating
American journalists. Called "public diplomacy," the project was run by a
CIA propaganda veteran, Walter Raymond Jr., who was assigned to the National
Security Council staff. The project's key operatives developed propaganda
"themes," selected "hot buttons" to excite the American people, cultivated
pliable journalists who would cooperate and bullied reporters who wouldn't
go along.

The best-known attacks were directed against New York Times correspondent
Raymond Bonner for disclosing Salvadoran army massacres of civilians,
including the slaughter of some 800 men, women and children in El Mozote in
December 1981. But Bonner was not alone. Reagan's operatives pressured
scores of reporters and their editors in an ultimately successful campaign
to minimize information about these human rights crimes reaching the
American people. [For details, see Robert Parry's Lost History.]
The tamed reporters, in turn, gave the administration a far freer hand to
pursue counterinsurgency operations in Central America. Despite the tens of
thousands of civilian deaths and now-corroborated accounts of massacres and
genocide, not a single senior military officer in Central America was held
accountable for the bloodshed.

The U.S. officials who sponsored and encouraged these war crimes not only
escaped legal judgment, but remain highly respected figures in Washington.
Some have returned to senior government posts under George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, Reagan has been honored as few recent presidents have with major
public facilities named after him, including National Airport in Washington.
On Feb. 25, 1999, a Guatemalan truth commission issued a report on the
staggering human rights crimes that Reagan and his administration had aided,
abetted and concealed.

The Historical Clarification Commission, an independent human rights body,
estimated that the Guatemalan conflict claimed the lives of some 200,000
people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. Based on a
review of about 20 percent of the dead, the panel blamed the army for 93
percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four
percent were listed as unresolved.

The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres
against Mayan villages. "The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan
villages . are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the
imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala's history," the
commission concluded.

The army "completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their
livestock and crops," the report said. In the northern highlands, the report
termed the slaughter a "genocide." Besides carrying out murder and
"disappearances," the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. "The rape
of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice" by
the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.

The report added that the "government of the United States, through various
agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some
[of these] state operations." The report concluded that the U.S. government
also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed "acts
of genocide" against the Mayans.

"Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state
security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect
for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values,
and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals," said the
commission chairman, Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist.

"Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out
between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the
Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan
people," Tomuschat said. [For more details on the commission's report, see
the Washington Post or New York Times, Feb. 26, 1999]
During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Clinton
apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala.
"For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support
for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and
widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that
mistake," Clinton said.

Iraqi War

Less than five years later, however, the U.S. government is teetering on the
edge of another brutal counterinsurgency war in Iraq.
Some supporters of Bush's invasion of Iraq in March are now advocating an
iron fist to quell the growing Iraqi resistance. In a debate in Berkeley,
Calif., for instance, ardent Bush supporter Christopher Hitchens declared
that the U.S. intervention in Iraq needed to be "more thoroughgoing, more
thought-out and more, if necessary, ruthless." [See, Nov. 11,
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Iraq, told a news conference
in Baghdad on Nov. 11 that U.S. forces would follow a new get-tough strategy
against the Iraqi resistance. "We are taking the fight into the safe havens
of the enemy, in the heartland of the country," Sanchez said.

But U.S. military commanders in Iraq and Bush enthusiasts at home are not
alone in encouraging a fierce counterinsurgency campaign to throttle the
Iraqi resistance. Though many war critics say the likelihood of a difficult
occupation should have been anticipated before the invasion, some now agree
that the U.S. government must fight and win in Iraq or the United States
will suffer a crippling loss of credibility in the Middle East and
throughout the world.
Wishing for a result, however, can be far different from achieving a result.
Wanting the U.S. forces to prevail and asserting that they must prevail does
not mean that they will prevail. American troops could find themselves
trapped in a long painful conflict against a determined enemy fighting on
its home terrain.

As the United States wades deeper into this Iraqi quicksand, the lessons of
the bloody counterinsurgency wars in Central America will be tempting to the
veterans of the Reagan administration. Those lessons certainly are the most
immediate antecedents to many of the architects of the Iraq

But the Central American lessons may have limited applicability to Iraq. For
one, the Bush administration can't turn to well-entrenched power centers
with ideologically committed security forces as the Reagan administration
could in Guatemala and other Central American countries. Also, the cultural
divide and the physical distance between Iraq and the United States are far
greater than those between Central America and the United States.

So even if the Bush administration can hastily set up an Iraqi security
apparatus, it may not be as committed to a joint cause with the Americans as
the Central American paramilitary forces were with the Reagan
administration. Without a reliable proxy force, the responsibility for
conducting a scorched-earth campaign in Iraq likely would fall to American
soldiers who themselves might question the wisdom and the morality of such
an undertaking.

Perhaps one of the lessons of the current dilemma is that George W. Bush may
have dug such a deep hole for U.S. policy in Iraq that even Guatemalan-style
brutality applied to the Sunni Triangle would only deepen the well of
anti-Americanism that already exists in many parts of Iraq and across much
of the Islamic world.

In the 1980s, as a correspondent for the Associated Press and Newsweek,
Robert Parry broke many of the stories now known as the Iran-Contra Affair.
His latest book is Lost History.

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