Early this year, the Wall Street Journal reported the emergence of a new element in the US struggle to defeat the Iraqi resistance ("New Factor in Iraq: Irregular Brigades Fill Security Void," February 16, 2005). Reporting from Baghdad, Greg Jaffe noted that "pop ups" — irregular militias commanded by war lords — begin to appear in the fall of 2004, marking a new reliance upon mercenary and paramilitary activity. Jaffe estimates about 15,000 of these "Special Forces" exist in contrast with the summer 2005 estimates of 57,000 Iraqi puppet soldiers.
There is a kind of wink-and-nod mystery to these militias in the Jaffe account. US military officials have "discovered" these "pop-up" units with a kind of gee-whiz glee. When Col. James Coffman "found" one group, he was "struck by the unit's arms room, which was stocked with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortar tubes and lots of ammunition.… The soldiers seemed to have a discipline that many of the U.S. trained Iraqi units lacked". A colleague of Col. Coffman, Col. Dean Franklin, opined that "Pound for pound… they are the toughest force we've got."
Months later, a further glimpse into these irregulars came from a lead story in The New York Times Magazine (May 1, 2005) entitled "The Salvadorization of Iraq." Despite the clumsy title, the cover shows an ominous masked irregular in dark glasses peering threateningly into the camera. Author, Peter Maass, tagged along with the jost powerful of these new warlords, Adnan Thabit (or "Thavit" as he is in the WSJ article). Maass credits the drop off in resistance actions after the elections to the aggressiveness of these paramilitary units, a lull that proved to be illusory.
But more importantly, Maass reveals the involvement of US advisors with these paramilitary forces. We get a glimpse into US strategic thinking when Maass explains that US advisors are led by James Steele (rank and affiliation unidentified) who led the 55 man Special Forces advisory mission to the El Salvador regime in the 1980s. These "experts" in counterinsurgency assisted in organizing the death squads that led to tens of thousands of El Salvador citizens dying from "extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings, 'disappearances' and torture…" as reported by Amnesty International.
Accompanying Thabit's militia, Maass confirms the new approach to battling the resistance. He witnesses beatings, intimidation, and torture of suspects in his brief tenure with Thabit and his US advisors. For this reason, he asserts: "The template for Iraq today is not Vietnam, with which it has often been compared, but El Salvador…"
The New York Times reported on June 26, 2005 in a story by John F. Burns that "special operations unit[s] … have been a focus of the $11 billion American-led program to train and equip new Iraqi security forces. With the disappointments the program has encountered in raising Iraqi main force units to combat capacity, special forces in the Iraqi police and army have played an important role.…"
While this cruel shift in US policy remains little more than an aside in the mainstream media, an Iraqi journalist, Yasser Salihee, pursued the story for the Knight-Rider news service. His investigation led him to a number of suspiciously brutal abductions, tortures, and extra-judicial assassinations, suggesting the stamp of this death squad strategy. He was killed before a military checkpoint on June 24, possibly a victim of a US sniper.
So now the US administration has come full circle: from their contrived invasion to rid the world of terrorism, they have failed to raise a puppet army and must now resort to brutal terrorism to tame the Iraqi people and their fierce resistance to occupation. The Iraqi people will prevail.