jeudi, janvier 25, 2007

Actualité - US targets Sadr, threatens Maliki in Iraq

On January 21, a day after 25 US soldiers died in Iraq (the third-highest death toll for a single day since US troops invaded Iraq in March 2003), 3200 additional US troops arrived in Baghdad as part of US President George Bush’s plan to boost US forces in Iraq by 21,500 troops. All but 4000 are to be sent to Baghdad, already occupied by 24,000 US combat troops.

That same day, Iraqi parliamentary speaker Mahmoud al Mashhadani told a Baghdad press conference that MPs aligned with anti-occupation Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr would be ending their boycott of the parliament and PM Nuri al Maliki’s government.

The Sadrists have 30 seats in the 275-member parliament, and six ministers in Maliki’s government. They suspended their participation on November 29 to protest against Maliki’s November 30 meeting with Bush in Jordan.

“I can confirm that the Sadr’s bloc has returned to the parliament after our five-party committee studied their demands and decided to recognise them”, Mashhadani said. The Sadrist bloc had been demanding that the parliament set a timetable for a US troop withdrawal and that the UN mandate for occupation troops not be renewed without consulting the parliament.

The announcement came two days after US troops detained Sheikh Abdul Hadial-Daraji, the media director of Sadr’s office in Baghdad, during a raid on a Shiite mosque in Baghdad’s eastern neighbourhood of Baladiyat.

The January 22 Time magazine reported that “Sheikh Abdel Hadi al Mohammedawi, who heads Sadr’s office in Karbala, told TIME that both the political and military wings of the movement ‘have received clear and decisive instructions from Said Moqtada al Sadr to avoid any kind of a military confrontation’.

“But could US forces themselves now be baiting the Mahdi Army, trying to draw the militia out of the shadows and into a fight? Both the Iraqi government and the Sadrists are wondering if the detention of Daraji — and potentially other high-profile Sadr officials — is part of a plan to draw the militia into the open by targeting its leadership.”

The Bush administration’s decision to ignore deep public opposition in both the US and Iraq and deploy more troops has been widely seen as preliminary to a military assault on Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, which controls Baghdad’s 2-million-strong Shiite slum district of Sadr City.

Obstacle to US control

Washington has long identified Sadr, the most popular political figure among Iraq’s Shiite poor, as an obstacle to stabilising Iraq under the control of a pro-US regime.

In April 2004, when the US-occupation forces launched an unsuccessful bid to recapture the rebel Sunni-populated city of Fallujah, 55 kilometres west of Baghdad, the Sadrists led Shiite protests in Baghdad in solidarity with the Fallujah resistance fighters.

Battles then broke out in Baghdad and the Shiite cities of south-central Iraq between the US occupation forces and the Mahdi Army, with US commanders vowing publicly to “capture or kill” Sadr.

A June 2004 truce broke down the following month after US troops attacked Sadr’s residence in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

At the end of August 2004, a peace agreement was brokered by Grand Ayotallah Ali al Sistani, Iraqi’s top Shiite cleric, under which both the Mahdi Army and the US troops agreed to leave Najaf. However fighting continued in Sadr City into October 2004, when both sides agreed to a ceasefire.

The following month, Washington took advantage of the ceasefire with the Sadrists to launch a second and much bloodier offensive to recapture Fallujah, killing up to 6000 of its residents and reducing much of the city to rubble.

Death squads

In January 2005, Newsweek magazine reported that the Pentagon planned to revive its 1980s El Salvador death-squad strategy by sending “Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers”.

In fact, this death-squad option had begun to be implemented not long after US troops had failed to recapture Fallujah in April 2004. The US military began to recruit members of the Badr Organisation, the militia of Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al Hakim’s Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI), to the newly formed special police commando units of Iraq’s interior ministry. They were placed under the command of US “advisers” and former officers of Saddam Hussein’s special forces and the Mukhabarat, Hussein’s secret police.

The American Forces Press Service reported on October 20, 2004, that US Army Colonel James Coffman, an “adviser” to the special police commando force, said: “They needed a strike force that reported to the ministry of interior … So they purposely went out and recruited these former [Iraqi] special forces and Mukhabarat personnel … to capitalise on the previous skill sets that they had.”

The “skill sets” these personnel had were ideally suited to the creation of government death squads. General Rasheed Flayeh, for example, was appointed director-general of the interior ministry’s special police commando force. As head of Hussein’s special forces in the southern city of Nasiriyah, he had been in charge of organising the bloody suppression of the 1991 Shiite uprising.

From late 2004, Sunni political and religious leaders repeatedly complained that their communities were being subjected to systematic abductions and extrajudicial executions by special police commando death squads.

The March 2, 2006, British Guardian reported that John Pace, the outgoing head of the UN human rights office in Iraq, had told it that the “Badr brigade are in the police and are mainly the ones doing the killing. They’re the most notorious.”

“Officially, Hakim’s Badr militia has been disbanded and turned into a political group, but few in Iraq believe it”, the December 4 Washington Post observed. “Instead, the Badr militia is widely believed to be the source of the top leadership in Iraq’s police and army forces … The militia is also suspected of operating death squads targeting Sunni foes and senior members of Saddam’s former Baath party.”

A major escalation of Washington’s “divide-and-conquer” strategy occurred in February last year with the blowing up of Samarra’s Golden Mosque.

In his January 10 speech announcing the decision to increase US troops strength in Iraq, Bush claimed: “Sunni insurgents recognised the mortal danger that Iraq’s elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra — in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq’s Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.”

However, immediately after the mosque bombing, local residents told the news media that the bombs had been planted by men wearing special police commando unit uniforms and that just prior to the bombing the area around the mosque had been cordoned off by US troops.

Since March last year, US officials, parroted by the Western corporate media, have blamed much of the wave of killings of Shiite civilians on “Sunni insurgents” and the deaths of thousands of Sunni civilians on “Mahdi Army death squads”. The implicit, and often explicit, message accompanying these claims is that only the presence of US occupation troops can prevent Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis from engaging in even greater sectarian carnage.

Moves to oust Maliki

Washington is clearly seeking to use the cover of combatting “sectarian violence” in Baghdad to launch a military offensive to attempt to crush the anti-occupation Sadrist movement and thus strengthen the position of its pro-occupation Shiite rival SCIRI, which also holds 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament. Indeed, Bush signalled his support for SCIRI by feting Hakim at the White House on December 4.

Seven days later, Associated Press reported that Washington’s “major partners in Iraq’s governing coalition are in behind-the-scenes talks to oust Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki amid discontent over his failure to quell raging violence, according to lawmakers involved.

“The talks are aimed at forming a new parliamentary bloc that would seek to replace the current government and that would likely exclude supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, who is a vehement opponent of the US military presence.

“The new alliance would be led by senior Shiite politician Abdul Aziz al Hakim, who met with President Bush last week. Al Hakim, however, was not expected to be the next prime minister because he prefers the role of powerbroker, staying above the grinding day-to-day running of the country.

“A key figure in the proposed alliance, Vice-President Tariq al Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, left for Washington on Sunday for a meeting with Bush at least three weeks ahead of schedule …

“One likely candidate for prime minister, however, was said to be Iraq’s other vice-president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite who was Hakim’s choice for the prime minister’s job before Maliki emerged as a compromise candidate and won.”

Washington’s dissatisfaction with Maliki has become increasingly evident. Following Maliki’s failure to issue an immediate statement endorsing Bush’s January 10 announcement of Washington’s new war strategy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly warned Maliki the next day that he was “living on borrowed time”. Two days later, Maliki issued a terse public statement endorsing Bush’s plan.

In a January 18 interview with the Chicago-based Tribune Broadcasting radio and TV network, Bush was asked if Maliki should be replaced. He responded: “Now is the time for the Maliki government to perform … Our patience is not unlimited, and we expect you to deliver.”

(Green Left Weekly - Doug Lorimer)

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