Bush administration officials have announced exit strategies for Iraq with a target of next Spring for an initial pullout. But the death toll continues to rise. We speak with an independent journalist about how the U.S. exit plan may be provoking a civil war in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]
We turn now to the constantly worsening situation in Iraq. Reports out of Baghdad say that fourteen marines and a civilian interpreter were killed when their vehicle struck an explosive just outside of Haditha, in Western Iraq.
Meanwhile, the seven marines killed yesterday west of Baghdad pushed the official US military death count past 1,800. At least 39 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the past 10 days alone — all but two of them in combat. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that since the beginning of April, more than 2,700 Iraqis have been killed. This comes as two very different pictures are being painted about Iraq, depending on who you talk to or what media you turn to. In recent days, the top commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said that the US could begin withdrawing some troops by Spring of next year.
- General George Casey,
“I do believe that if the political process continues to go positively, and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I believe we’ll be able to take substantial reductions after the elections in the spring and summer next year.”
General Casey made his comments standing next to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. This was the latest and perhaps most significant statement to come after weeks of buzz about a possible US exit plan. But the way it is being spun by the Pentagon is that the withdrawal will come as the Iraqi army, police and other so-called security forces assume more control of the security of the country. That’s far from happening. In fact, these are among the most dangerous jobs in Iraq with resistance fighters killing soldiers and police every day. And the security forces in the new Iraq are responsible for widespread human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings.
Take the recent examples of groups of Sunni men arrested by Iraqi forces only to turn up dead. Many Sunnis now assume that being arrested is the equivalent of being killed. Far from moving toward greater stability and calm, Iraq is continuing to get more and more bloody and chaotic. Some analysts believe that the recent US talk of pullout is happening because the US is losing militarily in Iraq to multiple enemies, loosely called the insurgents or the resistance.
Our guest today writes that civil war has already begun in Iraq. He has the center spread in the current issue of the paper called, “Bush’s Exit Plan: Civil War.” He says, “With the war stalemated, repeated deployments wearing down morale of U.S. troops and too few new recruits to maintain force levels, the Bush administration may be deliberately provoking civil war as its “exit strategy.” The goal is not so much to exit Iraq, but leave behind a skeletal military force that would maintain the network of permanent bases under construction throughout Iraq while maintaining access to massive oil deposits in the North and South. Breaking Iraq into a series of mini-states, a strategy being pushed by some White House allies in the media, is seen as one way to ensure these goals.”
- Arun Gupta, Editor with the New York Independent newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center.
AMY GOODMAN: In recent days the top commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said the U.S. could begin withdrawing some troops by spring of next year.
GENERAL GEORGE CASEY: And I do believe that if the political process continues to go positively, and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I do believe we’ll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer next year.
AMY GOODMAN: General Casey made his comments standing next to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. This was the latest and perhaps most significant statement to come after weeks of buzz about a possible U.S. exit plan, but the way it’s being spun by the Pentagon is that the withdrawal will come as the Iraq army, police and other so-called security forces assume more control of the security of Iraq. That’s far from happening. In fact, these are among the most dangerous jobs in Iraq, with resistance fighters killing soldiers and police every day, and the security forces in the new Iraq are responsible for widespread human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings.
Take the recent examples of groups of Sunni men arrested by Iraqi forces only to turn up dead. Many Sunnis now assume that being arrested is the equivalent of being killed. Far from moving toward greater stability and calm, Iraq is continuing to get more and more bloody and chaotic. Some analysts believe the recent U.S. talk of pullout is happening because the U.S. is losing militarily in Iraq to multiple enemies, loosely called the insurgents or the resistance.
Our guest today writes, “Civil war has already begun in Iraq.” He says, quote, “With the war stalemated, repeated deployments wearing down morale of U.S. troops and too few new recruits to maintain force levels, the Bush administration may be deliberately provoking civil war as its exit strategy. The goal is not so much to exit Iraq, but leave behind a skeletal military force that would maintain the network of permanent bases under construction throughout Iraq while maintaining access to massive oil deposits in the North and South. Breaking Iraq into a series of mini-states, a strategy being pushed by some White House allies in the media, is seen as one way to insure these goals.”
Those are the words of Arun Gupta. He is editor with The Indypendent newspaper, the newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center. He has the center spread in the current issue of the paper called “Bush’s Exit Plan: Civil War.” Arun Gupta, welcome to Democracy Now!
ARUN GUPTA: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Pushing a civil war?
ARUN GUPTA: Well, I think that if you look at the situation in Iraq, there are indications that this is what the Bush administration may be attempting, because the whole occupation has been a disaster from the beginning. The disbanding of the army and the security forces, the failure of reconstruction effectively alienated the Sunni Arab population. And then, since then, what we have seen, such as like the blatant theft of Iraq’s oil money, the use of various militias has increased the sectarian conflict.
Now, at the beginning of the year, few people considered a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites a possibility. There has been a lot of speculation all along that between Sunnis and Turkmen and the Kurds, that it was a much greater possibility because the Kurds run their own state.
But over the last six to nine months, the political process has intensified. The sectarianism in Iraq, rather than bringing the country together, the elections that were held in January solidified the sectarian lines. That was because the U.S. pushed the strategy that parties should run on slates, that they should cobble together these large groupings. And because the elections were held in this atmosphere of intense violence, very few parties could actually campaign in the open in much of the country. So, what that meant was that most Iraqis who participated in the election voted their ethnicity, such that the Shiite slate, the United Iraqi Alliance, and the Kurdish slate walked away with most of the votes.
Then, after the election, the U.S. pushed the strategy of parceling out government jobs according to ethnic quotas. You know, this kind of like 60/20/20. 60% Shiite, 20% Kurdish, 20% Sunni Arab. So, you had the whole government divided essentially in the way that the Lebanese government is divided. So, all of these actions have added fuel to this sectarian strife.
And as you pointed out, really the — one of the major failures of the occupation has been the inability of the Pentagon of the U.S. to, as they put it, stand up Iraqi forces. According to the Pentagon’s own report, only three out of 100 military battalions, Iraqi military battalions, are capable of effectively conducting counterinsurgency operations on their own. So, there’s been a casting about for other strategies, and one of these has been to use pop-up militias, illegal militias that have proliferated in Iraq over the last year. They have no accountability really to the government. They’re run by individuals who are then folded into various security service. The proliferation is really stunning in terms of the number of different security forces.
And then in April, with the ascension of the Shiites and Kurds into the government, the various ministries were parceled out, again according to ethnicity. So the Shiites took the Interior Ministry, which has control of many of the most feared militias, such as the Special Police Commandos, the Wolf Brigades, the Lion Brigades. And the Kurds were given the Defense Ministry, and so they have been using their own militias allied with their parties against the insurgency.
And so, it’s — what this is really doing is it’s pushing the whole Sunni Arab population into the arms of the resistance, because they see like there’s no middle ground. You know, if they don’t want to support the resistance, they’re going to be at the whim of these death squads. And now what we have seen since April is bodies turning up almost on a daily basis. It’s often not clear, you know, are these Shiites, are these Sunnis throughout much of the country.
According to a Christian Science Monitor report, since April alone, more than 1,000 people have been killed in Basra, where basically you have a theocracy that’s come into power where all these different Shiite factions, parties and militias are vying for power. And according to the Monitor, the vast majority are Sunni Muslim, that there’s a lot of revenge going on in return for the repression of the Shiites during the rule under Saddam Hussein.
AMY GOODMAN: Arun, you write that according to a number of reports, the Interior Ministry’s Wolf Brigades are behind many of the death squad killings on the Shiite side. Wolf Brigades?
ARUN GUPTA: Yes. This is one of the special forces that have been set up under the ministry. According to a number of reports, the Wolf Brigades, a lot of its commanders come from the Badr Brigades. The Badr Brigades are affiliated with SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. That was set up in Iran in the early 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. It’s not indigenous to Iraq. And SCIRI was one of the big winners in the election. And they said, 'Well, we're disbanding the Badr Brigades.’ All they did was they changed the name. They now call it the Badr Organization. The head of the Interior Ministry, Bayan Solagh, is a member of the Badr Brigades. The head of the Badr Brigades, according to Patrick Cockburn, is very influential in the Interior Ministry. And according to one report on the website, Jamestown.org, a lot of the commanders, something like 160 commanders, in the Interior Ministry forces have been fired since April, and many of them have been replaced by Badr Brigade members.
So, what you are seeing is really the increase of this sectarian conflict, and, you know, Patrick Cockburn, among others, writes how throughout Baghdad you can now see these militias openly traveling around. And they’re considered the most effective of the security forces, because their loyalty is to the parties. But they’re unaccountable. According to human rights monitors, they’re running networks of secret prisons where they’re torturing and, it looks like, killing detainees.
The head of the Wolf Brigades, Mohammed Qureishi, whose nom du guerre is Abu Walid, he is the mastermind behind the TV program, “Terror in the Grip of Justice,” where they parade these alleged insurgents across the TV screen, and they admit to all sorts of manner of crimes, you know, of killings, beheadings, where almost always they admit like that they have homosexual orgies, because that’s considered scandalous within Iraq. But a number of people who have appeared on these shows have later turned up dead with torture marks on their bodies. A number of people who have been freed from the Wolf Brigade detention centers have gone public and recounted how they were tortured, beaten, threatened with all sorts of potential atrocities and forced into making these confessions. And a lot of the media reports of the TV show also indicate that the confessions seemed very forced and convenient.
AMY GOODMAN: Many Sunnis assume if they’re arrested, they’re dead, killed by Shia police.
ARUN GUPTA: I think that’s probably accurate at this point. I mean, part of the difficulty is getting the information, you know. It’s like all of these bodies are turning up. There are hundreds of bodies that are being found in rivers and lakes throughout Iraq. Nobody knows exactly where they come from. There are hundreds of bodies being — unidentified bodies — apparently something like up to one quarter of the bodies that turn up in the Baghdad morgues are unaccounted for. And nobody knows exactly where they’re coming from.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Arun, would you say the U.S. is losing right now?
ARUN GUPTA: It doesn’t look good. That’s certainly true. The Pentagon has been going around saying, 'Well, the number of attacks are holding steady, about similar to a year ago,' but their accounting is suspect to say the least. In July of 2004, there were 47 attacks a day, according to their own statistics. As of July 2005, it’s up to 68 attacks a day. And I think what we have seen in the last few days is really grim news with 21 marines killed, because what it shows is that the insurgency, despite the Pentagon spending literally billions of dollars on countermeasures, on armoring all of the humvees, has been unable to defeat this very simple technology of the improvised explosive device. And they’re getting more powerful, more deadly, and they’re able to circumvent the U.S. tactics.
AMY GOODMAN: Arun Gupta, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Editor of The Indypendent, the newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center. His piece in the current issue is called “Bush’s Exit Plan: Civil War.”