Category Archives: U.S. Foreign Policy

How the Democrats Became The Party of Neoliberalism

by Arun Gupta Telesur October 31, 2014

There is a standard critique of the U.S. political system that seemingly explains why right-wing ideas drive the national agenda even when Democrats control the White House: the Democratic Party does not stand for anything and the Republicans are the party of ideologues.

The six years of Obama’s presidency are exhibit A in the case. During his winning campaign in 2008, Obama presented himself as a blank slate promising amorphous “hope and change.” His campaign encouraged voters to see Obama as a transformational candidate who would wind down bloody U.S. wars, revive the economy with a Green New Deal, open space for labor organizing, resolve the immigration crisis, and take bold steps to alleviate climate change.

Instead, Obama has bombed seven countries (more than Bush), deported record numbers of immigrants, killed immigration reform through neglect, undermined climate change accords in Copenhagen in 2009, attacked teachers unions, abandoned “card-check” legislation that would aid union drives, and offered little more than rhetoric on raising wages.

Obama, however, spared no effort to rescue the sinking yachts. In October 2009 the New York Times noted that the bailouts begun a year earlier were fueling a “new era of Wall Street wealth.”

That will shape his legacy: the real unemployment rate is still at 12 percent, and since 2008, 5.5 million more Americans live in poverty and the median household income has declined 4.6 percent. Corporate profits are at their highest level since record-keeping began in 1929, the effective corporate tax rate is lower than any point since Hoover was president, and workers are taking home the smallest share of national income in 65 years.

Obama and Democratic Party leaders have passed up few opportunities to kick their voting base in the face. They abandon supporters the instant an issue becomes contentious, such as capping carbon emissions, federal funding of reproductive healthcare, or anti-union legislation. In contrast, the Republicans stick to their guns in pursuing an ideological agenda of upward redistribution of wealth, increased police and military force, and reactionary social policies.

This is why Republicans are poised to secure a majority in the U.S. Senate in congressional elections next month. They stand for something and mobilize their base. Obama, however, has done little for working Americans after healthcare reform passed in early 2010.

But it’s time to rethink this notion that Democrats lack principles. They have a clear agenda and are actually more ideological than Republicans. Democrats like Obama are willing to lose power to carry out the neoliberal agenda. Since the Clinton era, Democrats have been the most effective architects of policies that increase the wealth and power of those on the top of the economic pyramid. Now, neoliberalism is often thought of as synonymous with privatization, deregulation, and trade and capital liberalization, but the state will discard these policies for corporate handouts the instant elites get into a self-inflicted mess, as with the Wall Street crash.

This has left the Democratic Party in a bind. It relies on votes from social groups like women, union members, Blacks, Latinos, and environmentalists who favor redistributive policies like gender equity in income, a higher minimum wage, lower healthcare costs, more environmental protection, and stronger immigrant rights. At the same time, Democrats need billions of dollars to run elections and their party machinery. They go hat in hand to corporations and promise more tax breaks and corporate welfare in return. But Democrats can never be as committed to the free-market ideology as Republicans. Democrats need to satisfy some needs of their social base while Republicans can move the goalposts further right and wait for the Democrats to play catch up.

To resolve the contradiction, Democrats like Obama and likely 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton say we will manage trickle-down economics more efficiently. This will increase taxes for modest market-based redistribution in the form of healthcare, housing and higher education subsidies, and tax breaks for the working poor. It’s the same role many traditional left parties play in other countries. Democrats offer a bit more funding, miniscule compared to military spending and corporate welfare, for food stamps, homelessness, and energy assistance. But the commitment to neoliberalism leaves the programs vulnerable. Obama readily cut tens of billions of dollars in social welfare to appease Republicans complaining about a $17.9 billion national debt. Obamacare is part of this framework. While it did extend coverage to uninsured millions, the goal was to reduce costs through intensified neoliberal restructuring, which is reducing overall quality of healthcare.

The Republicans opt for naked class warfare as with huge tax breaks to the wealthy under Reagan and Bush Jr. But the breed of hard-right Republicans that came into Congress in 1994 will play chicken with the economy if that serves their power interests, as they did by repeatedly shutting down the government and damaging the U.S. credit rating.

Lacking a progressive vision, Democrats follow the GOP on economic policy, pushing the center rightward. Most media outlets have little interest in unpacking historical conditions that shape politics, preferring gossip about the personality, values, tastes and lineages of candidates. Yet it’s the historical contradiction Democrats are trapped in that explains how and why Bill Clinton and Obama pursued a neoliberal agenda that dashed the hopes of their supporters, resulting in the biggest midterm losses in Congress of any president in the modern era. It also explains why the Democrats will likely lose the U.S. Senate in November 2014.

Bill Clinton campaigned as a “New Democrat”: tough on crime, fiscally responsible, and stern with welfare recipients. Clinton effectively fulfilled the Reagan Revolution by gutting welfare, passing NAFTA, deregulating telecommunications and the finance sector, and ramping up government spying, policing, and immigrant detention. Clinton could grant the right-wing’s wish list because the Democratic base was conditioned to supporting any deal no matter how bad because the Republicans would supposedly be worse. Yet Clinton needed Republicans to pass NAFTA because the Democrats controlled Congress. He threw millions of poor women and children off welfare to shore up his right flank in advance of the 1996 election. But that cynical calculation was unnecessary Clinton trounced the feeble Republican nominee, Bob Dole in a race that was never in doubt. And deregulation happened in Clinton’s second term when he was freed from election concerns.

Obama has repeated the same pattern. He is more aggressive on foreign policy than Bush. In 2011, before the explosive revelations about NSA spying and Obama’s newest wars in Syria and Iraq, Glenn Greenwald noted, “Obama has continued Bush/Cheney terrorism policies—once viciously denounced by Democrats—of indefinite detention, renditions, secret prisons by proxy, and sweeping secrecy doctrines. He has gone further than his predecessor by waging an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, seizing the power to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process far from any battlefield, massively escalating drone attacks in multiple nations, and asserting the authority to unilaterally prosecute a war (in Libya) even in defiance of a Congressional vote against authorizing the war.”

Because Obama is facing a hostile GOP that comes across as mentally unhinged at times, most of the Democratic base is complacent. The rest are demoralized, leaving little opposition to his right-wing policies, just like the Clinton era. Remarkably, Obama has been less aggressive than Bush on prosecuting Wall Street crime. More significant, in January 2009, days before his inauguration, Obama told the Washington Post he would convene a “fiscal responsibility summit” to “reform” Social Security and Medicare. Rather than using his historic victory and Democratic majority in Congress to push for progressive redistribution, Obama was saying he wanted to decimate the two bedrock programs of retirement to pay for Wall Street’s epic corruption. If Obama succeeded, and the only reason he hasn’t so far is because the right has been so extreme, it would have destroyed what remains of social welfare and the Democratic Party’s base. (Clinton also tried to weaken retirement programs in the nineties.)

Additionally, numerous observers, including myself, pointed out in December 2008 that it was no secret the stimulus would fail. The $800 billion plan that passed amounted to barely 2 percent of GDP through 2011, while the gap due to the economic depression hit 7 percent at one point. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the stimulus produced 500,000 to 3.3 million full-time jobs, but more than 8 million full-time jobs were lost and overall more than 13 million workers lost jobs, dropped out of the labor force or downgraded to part-time work involuntarily.

The stimulus may have prevented a repeat of the Great Depression, but by applying bandages to gaping wounds Obama enabled the right to portray it as a failure and government as the problem. Passing New Deal-style programs would have been tough, but Obama capitulated before he began, losing the chance for stronger stimulus and redistribution.

With Obama entering the twilight of his powers and relevancy, the focus will shift by the New Year to the 2016 horse race. The Democrats will remain devoted to managing the state for the interests of wealthy and powerful. It’s why the Democrats are the true ideologues. Hillary may win office by talking left, but once in the White House she will readily sacrifice the Democrat power base to stay true to the neoliberal project.

The silver lining is this “extreme center,” as Tariq Ali describes it, has opened up space in countries like Spain, Iceland, and Greece that left parties have used for mass mobilization. There are flickers of hope in the United States with Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant beating Democrats in Seattle and Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins giving New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo headaches in the upcoming election. But it’s a long row to hoe.


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Filed under Austerity, Democratic Party, Economy, Neoliberalism, U.S. Foreign Policy

The Return of Frankenstein

The sectarian narrative whitewashes the U.S. role in the conflict in Iraq.

by Arun Gupta Telesur July 26, 2014

Al Qaeda was America’s Frankenstein. The U.S. foreign policy establishment helped bring it to life to fight the Soviet Union after its ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It turned on its creator, culminating in the September 11 attacks, and has largely been vanquished.

That’s far from the end of the story, however. The ascent of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has consolidated control over nearly half of Iraq and much of Syria, indicates that U.S. policy has created a new Frankenstein. Washington was shocked when Iraq’s army in the North disintegrated when ISIL seized the city of Mosul in June. But the White House had a convenient excuse as to why the Iraqi state on the brink of collapse: sectarianism.

American politicians and pundits fingered Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as the villain. The story goes that Maliki, after being re-elected in 2010, intensified sectarian policies of punishing Sunni Arabs who opposed his rule, violently squashing protests, and targeting senior Sunni political figures.

There is truth to these claims. Under Maliki, Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, was sentenced to death in 2012 by hanging for allegedly running death squads. Last year, Maliki repeatedly ordered security forces to attack sit-ins by Sunni Arabs discontent with being shut out of political influence, jobs, and economic aid, killing dozens of protesters.

However, the sectarian narrative whitewashes the U.S. role in the conflict. Sectarianism is premised on the idea that internal forces springing from ancient religious and ethnic divisions account for the strife. The United States is cast as a bystander, bumbling and misguided at worst, a well-intentioned if exasperated referee at best.

In reality, sectarianism in Iraq is a cover for conflicts over who controls the state, security forces, patronage, jobs, and the oil industry. More important, the U.S. occupation in Iraq weaponized sectarianism. During the first year of the occupation, the American-formed Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Pentagon imposed political and military policies to punish the Sunni Arab population, which it viewed as bulwarks of Saddam Hussein’s regime and his Ba’ath party. Since then, as revolts and more wars have convulsed the Middle East, the United States and allies such as Israel, the Egyptian military, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, have regionalized the sectarian divide as a strategy to weaken Iran and its allies in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza. Thus, sectarianism is not endemic to Iraqi society or the Muslim world but a result of carefully crafted decisions by states designed to pursue geopolitical interests.

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, it brought along the Iraq Governing Council as a fig leaf for the occupation. Composed of two Kurdish parties, former Ba’athists, and secular and religious Shi’a parties, it had little legitimacy or experience governing. It had little power under the CPA, which focused on dismantling the state. In May 2003 CPA Procounsel Paul Bremer, a protégé of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, ordered a “de-Ba’athification” program, throwing 30,000 government employees out of work. Bremer disbanded the Iraqi military and security services, tried to eliminate their pensions, and put in motion a plan to privatize state-owned enterprises, which employed thousands more. The orders turned half-a-million Iraqis and their families into opponents of the U.S. occupation. The CPA alienated pretty much everyone else by firing civil-service employees and spending valuable time vetting those remaining in ministries that ran health, sanitation, electricity and the like, leaving it unable to restore needed public services.

At the same time, U.S. forces rolled into regions north and west of Baghdad, which saw little fighting during the three-week invasion, but where Sunni Arabs, Ba’ath party members, and senior military personnel were concentrated. Sending heavily armed American youth with no knowledge of language, culture, or customs ensured deadly encounters, such as the April 2003 killing of more than a dozen protesters in separate incidents in Fallujah, a city that became infamous for resistance to the U.S. occupation.

But the resistance was never limited to Sunni Arabs (most Kurds are also Sunni). Millions of Shi’a in Baghdad also felt the sting of the military occupation and a vindictive and indifferent CPA. Plus, Iraqis had no choice in their leaders. Only the two Kurdish parties had any real support, but that was limited to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan where they ruled with an iron fist. Otherwise, the politicians who rode in on U.S. tanks were seen as interlopers who enjoyed a cushy life in exile while the average Iraqi suffered decades of war, sanctions, cruelty, deprivation and bombings, much of it attributable to the United States.

The U.S. occupation was remarkable in its ability to alienate Iraqis, with armed resistance flowering in mere weeks. U.S. forces came down hard on Sunni Arabs with deadly checkpoints and curfews, villages layered in razor wires and patrols with shoot-to-kill orders. This was complemented by “cordon-and-sweep” operations, house raids, and mass imprisonment and torture in prisons like Abu Ghraib. In 2004, Bremer sparked a revolt by poor urban Shi’a after he cracked down on followers of the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

April 2004 was the high point of the national resistance, with twin Sunni-Shi’a uprisings that tipped Iraq into chaos. U.S. forces hung on by bombing civilians in Fallujah and Baghdad, but Washington needed a plan B, and it found an answer in a dirty war. When the CPA passed the baton to Ayad Allawi, a former associate of Saddam Hussein, in June 2004, the CIA had already conferred with Allawi on setting up paramilitary units such as the Special Police Commandos to fight the insurgency. The idea was ex-Ba’athists would be best at hunting former Ba’athists among the guerrillas. It allowed the Pentagon to distance itself from extrajudicial killings and torture, especially after Abu Ghraib was revealed to be a poorly supervised dungeon of horrors.

In January 2005 the parties that made up the Iraqi Governing Council grabbed the lion’s share of parliamentary seats in U.S.-organized national elections. Nearly all Sunni Arabs boycotted the poll because of the intensity of the military repression that culminated in the destruction of Fallujah in November 2004. Because of the intensity of the Iraqi resistance, both military and civil, the United States was unable to privatize Iraq’s oil industry. At the same time the winning parties lacked national appeal or a vision for Iraq. They fell back on mobilizing ethnic, religious, kinship, and patronage networks on the outside and horse trading on the outside to secure state power and resources. One consequence is the Shi’a parties that came into office in 2005 leveraged the security forces, especially the death squads, to solidify their support.

The United States created a state that thrived on sectarian strife and corruption, closing space for a broader national opposition as individuals sought safety along communal lines as the sectarian violence intensified. But the fundamental battle was still over resources. Individuals often benefited with new homes or jobs violently seized from rivals. The parties and politicians licked their chops in grasping for the oil industry. The tens of billions of dollars in annual oil revenue is a huge pot of money to buy political support, finance militias, funnel to business allies, dispense to favored communities, or just to loot for personal gain.

The Pentagon finally switched course in 2007 with its much-vaunted “surge” strategy, a point at which nearly 100 U.S. troops were dying monthly and the country was roiled in a civil war that saw at least 3,000 Iraqis being killed a month. More troops were dispatched to Iraq, but the tactic that made the biggest difference was putting legions of unemployed Sunnis on the U.S. payroll, providing salaries to stop fighting while backing away from blanket repression of Sunni Arabs. This also allowed the U.S. to turn the screws on Sadr’s armed followers, known as the Mahdi Army, because they were isolated in the political sphere and from most other resistance groups.

U.S. policy resulted in a weak state, corrupt and authoritarian parties, and ill-trained and vicious security forces. Despite the 2011 pull-out of nearly all U.S. forces, it left behind the largest embassy in the world in Baghdad, believed to harbor hundreds of CIA and intelligence staff, along with thousands of military contractors. Washington also kept providing arms, training, and support to Iraqi forces, making it the dominant power in Iraq.

Iraqi scholar Sabah Alnasseri notes this fragmented state is not accidental or incidental to U.S. interests, but is the desired outcome even if events sometimes spin out of control, as with ISIL. Iraq has been downsized from being a threat to Israel and the most powerful state in the Arab world on the eve of its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Its oil industry is within the U.S. sphere of influence and Iraq’s production is the highest it’s been in decades, with 2.5 million barrels a day exported in June. That some oil fields are being developed by Chinese or Russian companies is irrelevant. What matters is U.S. dominance, which holds sway over a former pillar of OPEC. The current strife in Iraq has created a soft partition between the Sunni West, Kurdish forces in the North, and Shi’a groups in the South, where the vast majority of oil production is taking place under relative security. The conflict also gives the Obama administration an excuse to intervene more in Iraq’s internal affairs while making the state even more dependent on U.S. power.

U.S. policies have devastated the people of Iraq and Syria, and they could backfire just like Al Qaeda did. Iraq is a battlefield of conflicting U.S. interests. It backed Shi’a forces against Sunni Arabs, bringing to power a government that tilts toward Iran even as it fights Iran’s allies in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza. ISIL is an offshoot of Al Qaeda and earlier permutations in Iraq that fought the Americans. By the end of last decade Al Qaeda had alienated many Sunnis in Iraq. Syria gave it a new lease on life where it morphed into ISIL and took root as a chief opponent of the Assad regime, which is allied with Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbullah, a populist Shi’a movement that has fought multiple wars with Israel over the last 30 years.

Iraq is raking in close to US$2 billion a week in oil exports, but little is flowing to Sunni areas in Western Iraq that are bereft of proper farming conditions or a developed energy industry. ISIL has cashed in not with religion, but with Sunni discontent on being shut out of jobs, aid, and state power by Maliki and his allies, and then killed when they protested. Maliki plays the sectarian card because it attracts U.S. attention and military support and allows him to demonize his opponents. But even as a propaganda ploy it’s wearing thin as Maliki is now accusing the secular Kurds of allying with ISIL despite open conflict between the two.

U.S. and Israeli policy toward Syria is a cynical balance of wanting to weaken Assad by aiding the armed opposition to his brutal rule but not trying to strike a decisive blow as that would bring unknown forces to power or resolve the conflict through diplomatic or political means as that would leave Assad in power, representing a victory for Hizbullah and Iran. Rebel sources in Syria claimed in September 2013 they were receiving arms such as anti-tank weapons from the United States that were financed by the Saudis. The armed opposition in Syria consists of a staggering 1,500 groups, however, and most fighters are with Islamist or Jihadi forces such as ISIL or the recognized Al Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front. ISIL claimed last year that it was buying anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons from rebels that Washington is allegedly arming.

The situation is similar to the Afghanistan War. There have been rumors for decades that the CIA backed Al Qaeda in the 1980s. There is not definitive proof that Osama bin Laden was a CIA asset, but the United States did turn the region into a petri dish for violent religious fanatics known as the Mujahideen. Some 12,500 foreign fighters “were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in Afghan camps the CIA helped to set up.” The United States paid little concern to its monstrous creation as long as it was tangling with the Soviet Union. It’s nearly as blasé about fundamentalists at war with Assad’s Syria. The United States and its allies, especially the Saudis, flooded both conflicts with guns and cash, guaranteeing Syria would also become a lightning rod for Islamist forces.

The Saudis want to pummel Assad’s regime as a way to inflict a blow on Iran, which sees itself as the leader of oppressed Shi’a brethren. There is a small Shi’a population in the Eastern Province of the Arabian Peninsula, which holds enormous oil reserves. The Shi’a in Saudi Arabia are marginalized, and following the 1979 Iranian Revolution they pushed for fairer distribution of oil wealth. In 2011 the Saudis led other Gulf States in an invasion of nearby Bahrain to support the royal family and quash a peaceful pro-democracy movement among the majority Shia’s there. Since that time, Shi’a in Saudi Arabia have been agitating for reforms and sometimes using violence to counter state repression. One Shi’a in the Eastern Province told a reporter, “You are now standing on top of oilfields that feed the whole world. But we see nothing of it. Poverty, hunger, no honor, no political freedom, we have nothing.”

It’s unlikely the Saudi state is funding ISIL, which are at odds. But the Saudis are reportedly funding its rivals in Syria, such as the Army of Islam. The naked pursuit of territorial, economic, and military interests has regionalized the conflict that has little to do with sectarianism. That the region is dividing into two camps is a twisted victory of sorts for the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The silence of much of the Arab world on Israel’s horrific assault on Gaza stems from the isolation of Iran and the destabilization of Syria. The counter-revolution in Egypt has been especially detrimental to Gaza, with the Egyptian military dictatorship closing the borders with Gaza and lining up with Tel Aviv and Washington in punishing Hamas for Israeli aggression.

Politicians and generals may think they can control the monsters they’ve spawned. But unlike Al Qaeda, which needed a patron in the form of the Taliban, ISIL is building its own state in a region of utmost importance to Empire, not a backwater like Afghanistan. It’s increasingly inevitable that Frankenstein will return. Thanks to U.S. policies, they are more fanatical, better financed and more powerful than ever.

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Little Baghdad, California

by Arun Gupta
May 2013 issue
The Progressive

NABEEL USED TO WORK FOR the Americans in Iraq. He was a security team leader for the Research Triangle Institute, a U.S. contractor that was paid more than half-a-billion dollars to run “local governance programs” throughout the country. He survived three car-bombing attempts. “I was lucky,” he says nonchalantly.

But as GIs began to exit Iraq in 2011, he knew that his luck would not last. Nabeel says that some guys threatened him: “We will kill your son. We will get revenge when the Americans leave Iraq.” Nabeel didn’t need much more encouragement, given the collapse of public services that had made life arduous, so he applied for a special immigration visa for Iraqis employed on behalf of the U.S. government. With his family, he immigrated to El Cajon, California, in July 2011.

He expected a warm welcome and a decent standard of living for helping the war effort.

“When I came to the United States, I thought I would be better than the prime minister in Iraq,” recalls Nabeel. “Now, I am jealous of the street cleaner.”

Six friends of his nod in agreement. They are sitting in a sparsely furnished office in El Cajon, a city of 101,000 residents east of San Diego. The door says Babylon Design and Printing, but they jokingly call it the “Babylon coffee shop.” Outside, palm trees stand still in the damp night air. Inside hang oil paintings of Middle Eastern marketplaces and rural life.

All seven knew each other in Babil province, south of Baghdad. All worked for U.S. contractors. All escaped Iraq because of threats and the collapse of public services. Now, however, all are unhappy, most are jobless, and some wish they had never left Iraq despite the violence and chaos.

Also in the office are Ahmad Talib and Huda Al-Jabiri. They fled Iraq in the late ’90s, and spent five days walking without food to the Iranian border while Huda was eight months pregnant. The couple is employed as social workers resettling refugees. Ahmad says he is aware of five families who came to El Cajon recently and returned to Iraq.

“Many of the older generation want to go back,” Ahmad says. “This is not their culture. They have friends, families, memories in Iraq. One said, ‘If I am killed by a suicide bomber, I die once. Here in America, I die every day. I struggle with rent, I struggle with language, I struggle with work.’ ”

By one measure, the seven friends are fortunate. Out of a sea of four million Iraqis displaced since 2003, a relative trickle of 85,000 has been admitted to the United States. From 2003 to 2006, the United States accepted a mere 735 Iraqi refugees. Only after the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act became law in January 2008 did the United States start letting in a significant number of Iraqis.

While Michigan has a larger population of Iraqi descent, El Cajon is the top destination for this round of refugees partly because the State Department has discouraged refugees from settling in the economically depressed Detroit area. Professor John Weeks, a demographer at San Diego State University, estimates that the Iraqi population in San Diego County has swelled by an average of 400 a month since 2008, and El Cajon is now almost one-third Iraqi American.

But new refugees often encounter a rude awakening. The city’s poverty rate is 23 percent, and the unemployment rate at the end of 2012 was 11 percent. Moreover, El Cajon is still trying to live down its tag as the “meth capital of the world,” and it retains a hard-bitten feel evidenced by a robbery rate 50 percent above the national average.

Nonetheless, refugees say the warm, sunny weather is a welcome reminder of home, and for decades El Cajon has become a magnet for many of Iraq’s persecuted. Thousands of Kurds started arriving following a failed revolt in 1976. After the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein crushed a Shi’a uprising encouraged by the senior Bush Administration, and some 1,500 Shi’a who escaped found their way to El Cajon. There are also Mandaeans, whose 2,000-year-old Gnostic culture is in danger of extinction, and Yezidis, practitioners of an ancient syncretic religion. But far and away, it’s the estimated 30,000 Chaldean Catholics in El Cajon who have enlivened the city with Iraqi culture, many having first settled there in the 1950s. Main Street is nicknamed “Little Baghdad” for the proliferation of Arab-language signs and Iraqi-owned restaurants, markets, jewelry stores, auto shops, and cultural centers.

Everyone who has contact with the community says the number one problem is the lack of jobs. Khattab Aljubori talks proudly of the $4,000 a month he earned in Iraq as an IT specialist. He fled in November 2010 because of threats to his family and now gets by on welfare and whatever computer work he can scrounge.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study on the health of Iraqi refugees who settled in the United States after 2009, 67 percent of adults are unemployed, including 85 percent of those over 45 years old.

Suhail Putras is one of those who has found a job in El Cajon. He works as a cook at Ali Baba restaurant, which is decorated like an Arabian tent, with plush blue and white fabric covering the walls and ceiling, and beaded entrances shaped like arches. As Suhail talks, waiters hustle silver platters heaped with yellow rice, chopped vegetables, pickled radishes, glistening kebabs, and fresh-baked flatbreads the size of hubcaps. He left in 2008, and makes no bones that he’s glad to be gone. “Iraq was the paradise, now it’s the hell,” he says. The Mahdi Army, a Shi’a militia, bombed his family’s liquor store in Baghdad. “I was shocked that people I’ve been living with thirty years came with a knife for my back,” he says. He says his future, and more important, that of his children, is in the United States. But he tears up when asked if he misses Baghdad. “I was born there, I was married there, I have happy and sad memories there,” he says.

Every refugee confronts these contradictory forces. Nabeel says he’s landed work as a security guard, but it’s not enough.

“This is not a better life for me, but for my family, yes,” he says. “We sacrifice for our family. I want a better future and education for my kids.”

Mohammed chimes in. A civil engineer who bolted from Iraq in October 2011 after two of his co-workers at the Cooperative Housing Foundation, a U.S.-based NGO, were gunned down in the street, he is frustrated at being unable to support his family.

“I worked with Americans in my country, but I have no experience to work in America,” he says. He has a simple solution: “So give us a job,” he says, referring to the government. “If they keep Saddam Hussein, we will never be here.”

Ahmad says some Iraqis in El Cajon believe they deserve welfare. They think, “This is our money, they took our oil.”

“These refugees are a direct consequence of our decision of having invaded Iraq,” adds Professor Weeks. “Some of these refugees, not all of them, come with the attitude that you ruined our country, you owe us.”

It’s not hard to understand why. Farah Muhsin, who came to San Rafael, California, in 2008 to study political science, says her family decamped to Syria in May 2003 after her mother, a journalist in Iraq, appeared on “death lists issued by the Badr Brigade and the Da’wa Party.”

“If you go to Iraq today, they say America has destroyed our country and allowed criminals and warlords to become politicians, take control of our government and imprison and torture thousands of people,” Muhsin says. “As harsh and cruel was life under Saddam Hussein, it was much better than today.”

Estimates of the number of Iraqis killed during the last decade range from 150,000 to one million. Trauma among Iraqi refugees in Syria, with 90 percent suffering from depression and 68 percent from post-traumatic stress disorder, far outstrips that suffered by civilians in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

The moment Iraqis land in the United States they face new struggles. First, Ahmad explains, they are usually in debt to the International Organization for Migration, which provides an interest-free loan for the airline fare to bring them over. “A family of five might owe $6,000, and they have to start making payments in three months,” he says.

Social workers say each refugee receives a “reception and placement” grant of $1,100 for rent, security deposit, furnishing, bedding, food, and other essentials. But for a childless couple that may not be enough to secure an apartment. “When you come here,” says Ahmad, “you get the worst apartment, the cheapest one they can find, and donated furniture.”

Salam Hassan, a thirty-seven-old-year computer engineer living in Berkeley, who served as a fixer in Baghdad for journalists like Naomi Klein, Dahr Jamail, and Christian Parenti before escaping mortal danger in 2005, says single male refugees in the Bay Area wind up in West Oakland, “famous for its violent history, because it’s poor, and the rent is cheaper.” A number of refugees in Oakland have been robbed and assaulted, and Farah Muhsin says, “One Iraqi man was mugged and was shot five times, and is now permanently disabled.”

Hassan, who has taken so many refugees under his wing that his apartment was dubbed “the Iraqi Embassy,” says they are packed “three to four people per one-bedroom apartment. They get four months assistance, then are switched to a program that just covers their rent and $200 a month for food stamps.”

It’s an expensive and difficult process to make it to the United States—one refugee, a nuclear engineer, said it cost him $40,000—so adults tend to be professionals with advanced degrees in fields like medicine, engineering, and accounting. But the pressure to find jobs is relentless, and getting recertified is a laborious process. In the meantime, Ahmad says, “We find them jobs that no one else takes—fast food, housecleaning, parking-lot attendants.” Huda notices the change in their demeanor after they arrive: “You look at their faces. They are so proud of their degrees and their experience, and then they are told to clean sixteen hotel rooms a day.”

Ahmad is cynical as to why the United States lets in refugees: “They’re cheap labor.” But he’s quick to add, “They are survivors.” They confront obstacles at every corner—navigating a byzantine health care system, living in substandard conditions, learning how to use credit, taking crowded ESL classes with overwhelmed instructors. “But they will get up at 5 a.m., commute two hours, work a full day, get home at 7 or 8 p.m., and do it again the next day.”

Mark Lewis is mayor of El Cajon. Now sixty-four, he’s been in office since 1998 and grew up here. If he is any indication, cultural misunderstandings are abundant. He says single women have complained to him about not being served in Chaldean-owned establishments, and he’s warned them they must serve women. He says, “In our society the female is the same as the male. They haven’t got that through their heads yet.”

Lewis says some Chaldean schoolchildren who receive free lunches are “being picked up by Mercedes Benzes.” He adds: “First time, they come over here, it doesn’t take them too long to learn where all the freebies are at.” This, he says, causes “a lot of resentment in regard to veterans,” who ask, “Why can’t [the federal government] support veterans like they support minorities coming over here?” Lewis says this is creating “white flight.”

Advocates say that not enough is being done for Iraqi immigrants. “They need more educational programs,” Huda says, dismissing as laughable the four hours of cultural orientation some receive as their entire introduction to American society. Ahmad adds that adults need more activities “so they’re not just wandering the streets,” which is a common sight in El Cajon. Then there’s the issue of transportation, with many relying on a bus system that’s costly and inadequate. Most important, says Huda, “They need time for recovery and to learn the language and culture. Don’t put them to work right away.”

For many Iraqi immigrants in El Cajon, the adjustment to the United States is just too much. “I’m a nation to myself,” Salam Hassan says, explaining that he doesn’t feel at ease in either America or Iraq.

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Let a Thousand Militias Bloom

The City University of New York recently announced it was appointing retired Gen. David Petraeus as a visiting professor. This 2005 report by Arun Gupta details the role Petraeus played in stoking Iraq’s still-ongoing sectarian war by establishing the Special Police Commandos as a ruthless force to fight the Sunni-based insurgency.

by A.K. Gupta
In trying to defeat the Iraqi insurgency, the Pentagon has turned to Saddam Hussein’s former henchmen. Under former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, U.S. officials have installed many of the hated Baathists who tormented Iraq in high-level posts in the interior and defense ministries. But the new Iraqi government, overwhelmingly composed of Shiites and Kurds who suffered the most under Hussein, have announced that they are going to purge the ex-Baathists, putting them on a collision course with the United States.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made one of his surprise visits to Baghdad last week, warning the new government not to “come in and clean house” in the security forces. The official line is that the U.S. is worried about losing the “most competent” security forces. But there is a deeper concern that purging the security forces could feed into sectarian tensions and explode in civil war.

Much of that is due to a ruthless U.S. policy of using any tactic, no matter how unsavory, in trying to defeat the insurgency. According to a slew of reports, the U.S. military is encouraging tribal vendettas, freeing kidnappers to spy on insurgents, incorporating ethnic-based military units into the security forces, and encouraging the development of illegal militias that draw in part from Hussein-era security forces.

There is clear evidence that the tactics are having an effect. U.S. casualties have declined by 75 percent since their peak of 126 combat deaths in November 2004. Part of that is probably due to sweeping thousands of Sunni Arab males of the street-Iraqis imprisoned under U.S. control have more than doubled since last October to 10,500.

It is the more ruthless methods that may be having a greater effect on squeezing the insurgency. Yet the establishment of militias may backfire. U.S. military officials express concern that if the former Baathists who lead the militias are removed, they could take their forces with them.

A report by the Wall Street Journal from Feb. 16 revealed that numerous “pop-up militias” thousands strong are proliferating in Iraq. Not only are many of these shadowy militias linked to Iraqi politicians, but the Pentagon is arming, training and funding them for use in counter-insurgency operations.

Most disturbing, one militia in particular-the “special police commandos”-is being used extensively throughout Iraq and has been singled out by a U.S. general for conducting death squad strikes known as the “Salvador option.” The police commandos also appear to be a reconstituted Hussein security force operating under the same revived government body, the General Security Directorate, that suppressed internal dissent.

High-level White House officials are banking on the police commandos to defeat the insurgency. In hearings before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 16 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the commandos are among “forces that are going to have the greatest leverage on suppressing and eliminating the insurgency.”

The police commandos were identified as one of at least six militias by Greg Jaffe, the Journal reporter. Last October it was said to have “several thousand soldiers” and lavishly armed with “rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, mortar tubes and lots of ammunition.” Yet these militias owe their allegiance not to the Iraqi people or government, but to their self-appointed leaders and associated politicians such as interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Even the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, admitted in testimony before Congress on March 1 that such militias are “destabilizing.”

Of these militias, at least three are linked to Allawi. Jaffe writes, “First came the Muthana Brigade, a unit formed by the order of. Allawi.” The second is the Defenders of Khadamiya, referring to a Shiite shrine on the outskirts of Baghdad, which appears to be “closely aligned with prominent Shiite cleric Hussein al Sadr.” Al Sadr ran on Allawi’s ticket in the January elections and proved himself loyal when he attacked the main Shiite ticket publicly for stating it was endorsed by Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. (Al-Sadr also held the infamous press conference in Baghdad where several journalists in attendance were seen receiving $100 gifts from Allawi’s government.)

The special police commandos is led by Gen. Adnan Thabit, who participated in the disastrous 1996 coup against Saddam Hussein that Allawi coordinated. Thabit was jailed and subsequently released shortly before the 2003 U.S. invasion. He is also the uncle of Iraq’s interim minister of the interior, under which the commandos operate.

Thabit told the Armed Forces Press Service last October that the police commandos are drawn from “police who have previous experience fighting terrorism and also people who received special training under the former regime” of Saddam Hussein. The report from Oct. 20, 2004, also quotes U.S. Army Col. James H. Coffman Jr., who specifies that police commandos are “former special forces and (former Directorate of General Security) personnel.”

The Directorate of General Security was one of the main security services Hussein used to maintain an iron grip on Iraq. The Center for Nonproliferation Studies describes the service’s role as “detecting dissent among the Iraqi general public” by monitoring “the day-to-day lives of the population, creating a pervasive local presence.”

Col. Coffman reports to Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who heads the mammoth U.S. effort to create Iraq’s myriad security forces. Petraeus calls the police commandos “a horse to back” and has done so by providing it with “money to fix up its base and buy vehicles, ammunition, radios and more weapons.” In a satellite briefing to the press on Feb. 4, Petraeus repeatedly praised the special police commandos, calling the leadership “tremendously aggressive” in operations. Petraeus also revealed that the commandos, the Muthana Brigade and another militia called the Defenders of Baghdad were used to provide security on election day.

But a senior officer on Petraeus’s staff confided, “If you tried to replace Gen. [Thavit] he’d take his…brigades with him. He is a very powerful figure.”

Ousting wholesale the ex-Baathist security forces now in the government could push them to join the insurgency. And this precisely what Iraq’s new president, Jalal Talabini is suggesting. According to the BBC, Talabani argues “the insurgency could be ended immediately if the authorities made use of Kurdish, Shia Muslim and other militias. Jalal Talabani said this would be more effective than waiting for Iraqi forces to take over from the US-led coalition.”

The militias Talabani is referring to include the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite units such as the Badr Brigades. But such a move would cement the conflict as a sectarian one.

Military analyst William Lind notes that “the rise and spread of Shiite militias devoted to fighting Sunni insurgents puts ever-greater pressure on Iraq’s Sunnis to cast their lot with the insurgency.” Add to this the use of Kurdish Peshmerga also against Sunni Arabs and civil war would likely result.


Ironically, Allawi-with U.S. encouragement-has put a network of former Baathists in charge of various security services to fight what the U.S. claims are other Baathists who form the core of the insurgency. They include Thavit’s nephew, Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, who is the son of a prominent Baath official. The Minister of Defense is Hazem al-Shaalan, a former Baathist from al-Hillah, and. Brig. Gen. Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, an old-time Ba’ath officer, is now head of the Iraqi secret police, according to author and analyst Milan Rai.

This policy of “re-baathification” is actively supported by Bush administration. The Washington Post reported on Dec. 11, 2003, that the CIA met with Allawi and another member of his Iraqi National Accord party to create “an Iraqi intelligence service to spy on groups and individuals inside Iraq that are targeting U.S. troops and civilians working to form a new government.” The plan was to “screen former government officials to find agents for the service and weed out those who are unreliable or unsavory.” Evidence of this role comes from Thabit who told the Armed Forces Press Service that former regime personnel in his force “were efficiently chosen according to information about their background.”

Even before he officially assumed the post of interim prime minister, Allawi announced a reorganization of security forces at his first press conference on June 20, 2004. According to a Human Rights Watch report on torture in Iraq, Allawi mentioned “Special police units would also be created to be deployed ‘in the frontlines’ of the battle against terrorism and sabotage, and a new directorate for national security established.” Human Rights Watch also noted that Al-Nahdhah, a Iraqi newspaper, reported on June 21 that the interior ministry “appointed a new security adviser to assist in the establishment of a new general security directorate modeled on the erstwhile General Security Directorate. one of the agencies of the Saddam Hussein government dissolved by the CPA in May 2003.” That security advisor was “Major General ‘Adnan Thabet al-Samarra’i.” (There are numerous variations on Thabet’s last name.)

Then on July 15, 2004, just two months before the police commandos became public, Allawi said the government would establish “internal intelligence units called General Security Directorate, GSD, that will annihilate. terrorist groups.” Jane’s Intelligence Digest commented at the time that the GSD, “will include former members of Saddam Hussein’s feared security services, collectively known as the Mukhabarat. These former Ba’athists and Saddam loyalists will be expected to hunt down their colleagues currently organizing the insurgency.”

Perhaps Allawi’s announcement was spurred by events in the city of Samarra. A July 15 report from Radio Free Europe noted that a Shiite website, , stated Islamic militants had blown up numerous sites in Samarra, including “the headquarters of the Iraqi National Movement Party led by Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, the City Council, the headquarters of the [Kurdish] peshmerga forces, and the home of Municipal Council Chairman Adnan Thabit.”

It seems then, former Baathist brutes may have gone from one security service under Hussein to the exact same one as under Allawi, another ex-Baathist. And the rougues apparently haven’t forgotten their old tactics.


The police commandos have been supplying suspects who confess their crimes on the TV show, “Terrorism in the Hands of Justice.” Described as the Iraqi government’s “slick new propaganda tool,” the program runs six nights a week on the Iraqiya network, which was set up by the Pentagon and is now run by Australian-based Harris Corp. (a major U.S. government contractor that gave 96 percent of its political funding, more than $260,000, to Republicans in 2004). According to the Boston Globe, camera crews are sent “wherever police commandos make a lot of arrests.”

The show features an unseen interrogator haranguing alleged insurgents for confessions. Virtually every press account notes that the suspects appear to have been beaten or tortured, their faces bruised and swollen. The London Guardian states “some have. robotic manners of those beaten and coached by police interrogators off-camera.” The Boston Globe observed, “The neat confessions of terrorist attacks at times fit together so seamlessly as to seem implausible.” And then there’s the nature of the confessions. Many suspects admit to “drunkeness, gay orgies and pornography,” according to the Guardian. The Financial Times reported that, “One long-bearded preacher known as Abu Tabarek recently confessed that guerrillas had usually held orgies in his mosques.” Another preacher giving a confession says he was fired for “having sex with men in the mosque,” the Globe account stated that suspects “frequently admit to rape and pedophilia.”

The show is said to be popular, particularly among many Shiites and Kurds, which causes concern that depicting Sunni Arab nationalists as “thieving scumbags” could deepen communal strife. Political and religious leaders from the Sunni Arabs have denounced the show, calling for it to be pulled off the air.

The police commandos’ penchant for tall tales caused them considerable embarrassment after they crowed about a major operation that killed more than 80 insurgents at a training camp along Lake Tharthar in Al Anbar on March 22. Within a day many discrepancies emerged-how many insurgents were killed, reports of more than 20 prisoners versus none, a number of different locations cited, many miles apart. The story fell apart after an AFP reporter visited the camp and still found 40 to 50 insurgents camped there.

But the police commandos are still receiving special treatment from the U.S. occupation. A State Department report to Congress from Jan. 5 noted that at the request of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, “billeting space” was provided for 1,500 police commandos in the Baghdad Public Safety Academy, postponing a basic training class of 2,000 scheduled to begin in November and limiting the number of students to 1,000 while the commandos received training “until the planned January 2005 elections.”

Overall, the militias are a tacit admission that the U.S. effort to create an Iraqi military force has been a colossal failure, costing at least $5 billion to date. During the most recent large-scale military campaign, “Operation River Blitz,” U.S. Marines raided towns West of Baghdad along the Euphrates River. The first order of business in many of these Sunni Arab towns, according to the Christian Science monitor, was to “round up and detain police officers”-the very ones who had been “trained” by the U.S. to fight the insurgency. In Tikrit in early March, the police went on strike after U.S. troops raided the provincial police headquarters there and arrested two high-ranking officers. (About the same time in Samarra, the mayor and city council resigned after the mayor’s office was raided and in protest of U.S. troops refusing to withdraw from the city as agreed.)

At the end of March, police brandishing Kalishnikovs staged a demonstration in Hit, one of the towns targeted, demanding their jobs back. An AP account of the protest dated March 29 noted that police forces have been dismissed across the province of Al Anbar, the heart of the insurgency, and “former local police officers have been protesting in several cities in recent weeks against a new plan to replace them with police from other Iraqi provinces.”

By introducing of militias and other units composed of Shiites and Kurds into the Sunni Arab regions, the U.S. may just turn the insurgency into a civil war.

10,000 STRONG

In terms of numbers, a column by David Ignatius in the Feb. 25 Washington Post notes that Thabit “commands a force of about 10,000 men,” which would make them larger than the British military, the second largest foreign force in Iraq. The commandos have been used extensively, first last October in the assault on Samara that was called a “model” for how to retake a city from insurgents (but which is stilled roiled by regular attacks). The commandos have also become a fixture in major cities such as Ramadi and Mosul. In Ramadi, The Stars and Stripes describes the commandos as “the Iraqi forces that might soon be responsible for security in the city.”

A report in Dec. 25 issue of The Advisor-a Pentagon publication with the tagline “Iraq’s Official Weekly Command Information Reporter”-stated that the “Special Police Commandos have been deployed all over Iraq to hunt down insurgents and to help provide security for the upcoming Jan. 30 elections.”


Jaffe notes many of the pop-up militias come “from Shiite-dominated southern Iraq.” And they appear to be operating mainly in Sunni Arab areas. The police commandos in particular are taking the lead in operations in such Sunni Arab hotspots as Samarra, Ramadi, Mosul, Tikrit and Baghdad. Last October they were assigned to Haifa Street, which had been a resistance stronghold on the edge of the Green Zone, the heart of the U.S. occupation. It’s a district of 170,000 Sunnis and Shiites where insurgents find willing recruits among the Sunni neighborhoods. Two Iraqi battalions of more than 2,000 patrol the neighborhood, and the New York Times observes that one is lead by a Shiite general “commanding a unit composed mostly of Shiites.” (The units are the Iraqi 302nd and 303rd Battalion; it’s unclear if they are affiliated with the police commandos assigned there.)

Knight Ridder correspondent Tom Lasseter filed a report from Haifa on March 16, also noting that “Most of the Iraqi troops who patrol the area. are Shiite.” During the operations, Lasseter wrote, “When Iraqi and American soldiers detained a suspected Sunni insurgent in Haifa this week, a group of the Shiite troops crowded around him. A sergeant kicked him in the face. Another soldier grabbed him by the neck and slammed his head into a wall. A third slapped him hard in the face.” The Americans’ Iraqi interpreter yelled at the detainee, “If you come with us, we will slaughter you.”

The ethnic-based militias are having a trickle-down effect on Iraqi society. With no functioning government, various communities are increasingly arming themselves. In another report, Lasseter spoke to a Shiite soldier who claimed that, “Shiite neighborhoods on the edges of Haifa have formed militias to enforce the sectarian boundary.” The soldier added, “”That militia is secretly funded by a sheik at a local Shiite mosque… what’s happening right now could be the beginning of civil war in Baghdad.” And in what remains of Fallujah, “Sunni residents say anger toward Shiite troops is reaching a boiling point.” Bush may be right after all that “freedom is on the march” in Iraq: the freedom to hate and kill.

As for the “hunt” for insurgents, it seems to include death squads. Retired Gen. Wayne Downing, the former head of all U.S. special operations forces, appeared on NBC’s Today show on Jan. 10 to discuss a Newsweek report about the Salvador option. The reference is to the extensive use of death squads by El Salvador’s military during its war against the left in the 1980s. Downing called it a “very valid tactic” that has been employed “since we started the war back in March of 2003.” In the account, brought to light by analyst Stephen Shalom, Downing adds, “We have special police commandos now of the Iraqi forces which conduct these kind of strike operations.”

And there is evidence for such operations. According to the March 12 London Times, the body of Qahtan Jouli was delivered to his family in Samarra by commandos from the interior ministry. He had appeared on “Terror in the Grip of Justice” and confessed to collaborating with insurgents in 10 killings. Qahtan’s father charged that “My son was killed after he was tortured by the Interior Ministry commandos. They killed him to cover up the lies they broadcast on the al-Iraqiya channel that my son killed many people, including Iraqi army officers.”

Despite the pressure, the insurgency is still capable of conducting large-scale attacks. It’s still mounting 50 to 60 strikes a day across Iraq. The difference is U.S. forces have become more effective at responding to the attacks-with more armor, more surveillance and electronic countermeasures. The insurgents have responded by shifting their targets to the Iraqi security forces and intensifying economic sabotage by crippling the electrical and petroleum infrastructure. They still have the upper hand there by showing the U.S. and its Iraqi allies are incapable of ruling the country.

The militias are central to many of these roundups. According to The Advisor, in Samarra, the special police commandos detained 200 suspected insurgents in the “short time [they] have been operational in the area.” In one week in the Mosul area, according to a Dec. 7 press release from U.S. Task Force Olympia, the commandos and Iraqi National Guardsmen, backed by U.S. troops, detained 232 people. A report from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense claimed that more than 400 suspects were seized in Baghdad in just one week in March with hundreds more taken from surrounding towns. Many of those arrested remain under Iraqi control-where many are tortured according to human rights groups as well as the U.S. State Department. Thus the actual prison population in Iraq is unknown, with many more thousands probably in custody above the U.S. total (which itself is unverified).

U.S. Marine units have taken the militia strategy to a new level: by creating their own. In a recent sweep through Al Anbar province, The 7th Marines Regiment brought with the Iraqi Freedom Guard, a 61-man unit set up by the Marines in January and paid $400 a month each, according to a Reuters report. During the same operation, Marines of the 23rd Regiment were accompanied by 20 members of a special forces unit called the Freedom Fighters. The Christian Science Monitor described them as Shiites from the southern city of Basra, with “little love between them and the Sunni Arab citizens of Anbar.”

In the greatest irony, U.S. forces have reached a pact with elements of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army to have them hunt down insurgents. This is the same militia that U.S. forces fought in lopsided battles last year that saw the Americans’ massive firepower devastate much of Sadr City in Baghdad and Najaf’s old city and kill thousands of Iraqis.

According to Agence France-Presse, U.S. forces are using a Shiite tribal leader to enforce vigilante justice in Baghdad’s Dura district. One U.S. officer calls the leader, Sayed Malik, “the godfather” and notes he’s received lots of public works contracts, enough to make him a millionaire. Another Sadr official states point blank that “people from Sadr organization are publicly hunting down the terrorists.” This apparently includes the kidnapping and disappearing of a Sunni cleric from a mosque in Dura.

The U.S. military is so obsessed with defeating the insurgents that it is “routinely freeing dangerous criminals in return for a promise to spy on insurgents,” according to The Independent. One senior Iraqi police officer charged that “The Americans are allowing the breakdown of Iraqi society.We are dealing with an epidemic of kidnapping, extortion and violent crime, but even though we know the Americans monitor calls on mobiles and satellite phones, which are often used in ransom negotiations, they will not pass on any criminal intelligence to us. They only want to use the information against insurgents.”

Despite the grab bag of ruthless and destabilizing tactics, the insurgency is far from over. One U.S. general recently noted that it takes on average nine years to defeat an insurgency. Additionally, it’s the violence of the U.S. occupation that gives the insurgency such force. Even if the rebellion is contained to “manageable” levels for the Pentagon, meaning a low rate of combat deaths, that does not mean the resistance will end. U.S. forces long ago lost the battle for hearts and minds.

And Iraq’s own “democracy” is already in trouble, leaving many Iraqis disillusioned. The winning parties have been unable to form a government almost three months after the election. They are still squabbling over who will control the most important portfolios-defense, interior and oil-which is where the real power lies. With a do-nothing government ensconced in bosom of the deadly U.S. occupation, the stage is now set for a further descent into rebellion and repression.

This article was originally published in the May 2005 issue of Z Magazine.


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Empire of Chaos: How 9/11 Shaped the Politics of a Failing State (Alternet)

By Arun Gupta

The neoconservative ideas that shaped the war on terror have evaporated as the United States is battered by an economic depression that shows no end.

September 9, 2011
The events made my mind reel. The angry plumes of smoke, office paper raining like confetti, tumbling windows flashing in the sunlight. I could make out jumpers and watched a jet fighter whoosh by the burning towers, bank and disappear. I thought, “This is like a movie.”

It upset me that my only way to comprehend the events was to reference the Hollywood imaginarium. But it was understandable. Where else would I have seen images resembling the war in my backyard – collapsing skyscrapers, gigantic fireballs and thousands of dead?

The need to make sense of the events of Sept. 11 – the plot by al-Qaeda, four hijacked airliners, the demolished twin towers and nearly 3,000 dead – is universal. It is why the state’s first task after 9/11 – before one bomb dropped, one soldier deployed – was to imprint the “war on terror” on the collective American mindset.

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