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The Victory of Popular Resistance in Occupied Iraq

By NicolasDavies - Posted on 21 October 2011

Under the influence of U.S. military propaganda, Western accounts of occupation and resistance in Iraq have tended to characterize the occupation forces and their Kurdish and formerly exiled Iraqi allies as representing legitimate authority, stability and security in Iraq, and popular resistance forces as "insurgents" or "terrorists".  An ever-changing official narrative in which US forces must be held blameless for the violence of the invasion and occupation has required the demonization of the Iraqi Resistance and fueled an endless quest for the roots of violence in caricatures of Iraqi history that have gained wide acceptance in Western popular culture.   

My own work has placed every aspect of Iraq's recent history within a more coherent context of illegal aggression, hostile military occupation and popular resistance.  This has permitted me to more objectively examine the history of both armed and non-violent resistance in occupied Iraq since 2003.

Violent resistance is, by definition, a secondary form of violence that emerges in response to the primary violence of invasion and hostile military occupation.  It is likewise axiomatic that occupation forces use propaganda to discredit and delegitimize resistance movements, portraying them as terrorists, extremists or bandits, and that domestic opinion in the home country of an occupying power is especially susceptible to such propaganda.  One of the main thrusts of such propaganda is to define people involved in popular resistance as a class of people who cannot be understood or reasoned with, let alone identified with.  This not only preserves political support for occupation, but it also serves to justify policies of extreme violence, or even extermination, against resistance fighters and their supporters.

  Eliza Manningham-Buller, the recently retired director of Britain's MI5 intelligence agency explained in this year's BBC Reith lecture how "war on terror" propaganda and the demonization of America's enemies has prevented an effective approach to counter-terrorism and undermined the counter-terrorism strategies of U.S. allies.  Asked whether Western officials should negotiate a political settlement with Al Qaeda, she replied, "...people - I hope - in the American intelligence world and in our own, are thinking exactly... who to talk to, how to talk to them and what we might discuss... you have to reach a political settlement." [1]  But of course that was precisely what the "war on terror" propaganda campaign was designed and intended to preclude.  This led to a more than 30-fold increase in global terrorism between 2001 and 2010, based on U.S. State Department figures, providing the justification for an ever-expanding American war and global military occupation. [2]

Although Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist crimes in the United States in 2001, the U.S. government characterized its war in Iraq as "the central front in the War on Terror".  For several years, the Iraqi Resistance stood virtually alone in the world against U.S. and British aggression, but it ultimately succeeded in making continued occupation futile and counter-productive for the occupying forces and forcing them to withdraw.  This forced U.S. policy-makers to make significant revisions to their global war policy, sparing other countries the fate suffered by the people of Iraq.  

I hope that this paper will serve to liberate scholarship on this topic from the corrupting influences of military propaganda and the echo chamber of U.S. commercial media and popular culture, and that it will provide a basis for future historians to come to grips with the brutal reality of the U.S. invasion and occupation, the unbearable predicament in which it placed the people of Iraq and their courageous response to that predicament.

The U.N. Security Council abandons the people of Iraq to their fate     

In 2003, the people of Iraq found themselves living under a hostile military occupation, one that was characterized from the very start by violence, corruption, disregard for human life and public welfare and systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law.  The invasion itself violated the U.N. Charter and was defined as a "crime of aggression" by the British government's senior legal advisors in a series of pre-war documents that were declassified by the Chilcot Inquiry in the U.K. in 2010. [3]  Like hostile military occupations throughout history, the occupation confronted every Iraqi with the classic, excruciating choice between collaboration and resistance to the hostile military occupation of their country.  The only third choice was flight, and about 5 million Iraqis (about one in six) eventually abandoned their homes and their lives to become internally displaced persons or refugees in other countries.

In a succession of resolutions following the invasion, the United Nations Security Council undermined any hope the people of Iraq might have clung to that the U.N. would act to uphold the protections guaranteed to them and to people everywhere by the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law.  On May 22nd 2003, resolution 1483 recognized the United States and the United Kingdom as occupying powers in Iraq.  The resolution was carefully worded not to provide after-the-fact legitimacy for the invasion, but, by acquiescing in the result of American and British aggression, its effect was to institutionalize and consolidate the occupation.

In August 2003, UNSC resolution 1500 recognized the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council as an "important step towards the formation by the people of Iraq of an internationally recognized, representative government that will exercise the sovereignty of Iraq".  Five days later, the Iraqi Resistance responded to the U.N.'s complicity in aggression and occupation by destroying its headquarters in Baghdad.  In October 2003, as the violence of occupation and resistance took root and escalated, UNSC resolution 1511 authorized a "Multi-National Force" for Iraq, placing the lives and safety of the population in the hands of the very same American and British forces that had unleashed the violence in their country in the first place. [4]

The U.N. mandate for the Multi-National Force in Iraq was intended to expire on the formation of an interim Iraqi government, but it was instead renewed several times, riding roughshod over legal and constitutional requirements that this be approved by the Iraqi Council of Representatives (ICR).  One hundred and forty-four members, a majority of the ICR, even signed a letter to the UN Security Council, explaining that it had not approved the 2007 renewal request and asking it to reject the request unless a firm timeline for the withdrawal of the occupation forces was included. [5]  But the Security Council paid no attention and renewed the MNF mandate for another year.  Public anger at the occupation and political pressure from the National Assembly finally forced the Maliki government to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement at the end of 2008 that included firm deadlines for a complete withdrawal of the occupation forces, and we are currently waiting to see whether the United States will honor that commitment.

The actions of the U.N. Security Council ensured that, from 2003 on, the Iraqi people were left with no middle ground between collaboration and resistance.  The international community was not going to rescue them.  Successive governing institutions established by their occupiers were comprised largely of former exiles who had been flown in with the invasion forces, including many who had long-standing and publicly acknowledged relationships with the CIA and MI6.  The Iraqi Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority were the first institutions of a "divide-and-rule" strategy that destroyed the secular 20th century Iraqi state and divided power among former exiles affiliated with different sects and ethnic groups.  The occupation pitted these groups against each other in a struggle for power within the Green Zone, with the occupying powers as mediators and kingmakers, while U.S. forces and U.S.-led Iraqi forces recruited under occupation unleashed five years of ever-increasing violence against popular resistance groups and the majority of the civilian population who supported them.

The emergence of popular resistance

Immediately following the invasion in 2003, there was a natural and spontaneous explosion of democracy in many parts of Iraq.  Local people began to organize elections in Mosul, Samarra, Hilla and other areas.  U.S. military officers who took American propaganda about democracy and freedom at face value supported and assisted these efforts.  But in June 2003, before these processes could bear fruit, they were ordered to halt them, leaving Baathist military officers, with American support, in charge of most local governments in Iraq.  As Paul Bremer candidly observed to the Washington Post, "In a postwar situation like this, if you start holding elections, the people who are rejectionists tend to win." [6]

At the same time, largely non-violent street protests against U.S. and British occupation were organized in several Iraqi cities, usually over specific incidents or problems affecting local communities.  The long history of resistance in Fallujah began with a march to a local school that had been commandeered by U.S. forces, to demand that the school be returned to the community so that children could return to school.  The marchers were confronted by armed paratroopers blocking the road, somebody threw a stone and the troops opened fire.  They killed 13 people and wounded many more. [7]

When Sami Ramadan, an Iraqi sociologist teaching in London, returned in September 2003 to visit Baghdad, where he'd grown up, he found a great deal of anger at the brutality of the occupation, and popular support for armed resistance.  But he also found a common feeling that armed resistance was "premature" and that peaceful, political means could be more effective in ending the occupation.  He believed that American violence was a deliberate tactic to terrorize the population, and that the Americans were making an example of Sunni-majority cities like Fallujah, Mosul and Ramadi to send a message to the larger Shia-majority populations in Baghdad and the South that they had better cooperate. [8]

In November 2003, the CIA issued a report on the growth of armed resistance in Iraq.  The CIA reported that resistance to the occupation was spreading; that growing numbers of Iraqis believed that this was the way to end the occupation; and that greater violence by U.S. forces would only provoke stronger resistance.  The CIA also warned that resistance in central Iraq could easily spread to Shia-majority populations in Sadr City and the South, implying that stoking sectarian differences into mutual hostility would be the only way to forestall the emergence of a unified nationalist resistance movement. [9]

    At the time of the CIA's report, resistance attacks against U.S. forces numbered about 35 per day and only 400 Americans had so far died in Iraq.  The determination of U.S. policy-makers to complete and consolidate their conquest of Iraq tragically led to the deaths of 4,000 more Americans and a million Iraqis, and the scale of resistance grew from 35 attacks per day to 150 per day over the next 3 years.  

While U.S. propaganda always drew attention primarily to resistance operations in which civilians were killed, the U.S. Defense intelligence Agency maintained a breakdown of "enemy-initiated attacks" throughout the war which revealed that more than 90% were consistently against military targets.  Once the U.S. had recruited and trained Iraqi forces to fight under its command, those forces became the targets of about 15% of resistance attacks, but 75% were still directed at U.S. forces. [10]  Many of the less than 10% of attacks that did target civilians were aimed at U.S.-backed exiles, political targets, collaborators or people who were seen as collaborators.  The small number of genuine acts of terrorism were horrific and deplorable, but seem to have been mainly carried out by small groups of religious extremists, not by the larger nationalist groups that led the broader resistance to the occupation.  But the occupation authorities and the Western media presented these relatively isolated incidents as the principal form of violence in occupied Iraq and as a justification for continued occupation, rather than as the predictable and horrific result of an illegal and violent American occupation.

The United States launches a "dirty war" in Iraq

It became clear in December 2003 that the U.S. response to resistance in Iraq was taking a sinister turn.  Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker that U.S. special forces were being trained by Israeli assassins or Mista'aravim in Israel and North Carolina to conduct assassination operations in Iraq.  Hersh's military sources told him that they had already killed or captured most of the senior officials of the Iraqi government, and that they now believed the growing resistance movement was being led and supported by "mid-level" Baath Party members, in effect casting suspicion on the entire middle class of the country and making them targets of this campaign.  An American advisor to the occupation government told Hirsch, "The only way we can win is to go unconventional.  We're going to have to play their game. Guerilla versus guerilla.  Terrorism versus terrorism.  We've got to scare the Iraqis into submission." [11]  Another U.S. officer told Newsweek, "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving the terrorists.  From their point of view, it is cost-free.  We have to change that equation." [12]

As these officials made clear, and as in previous American-backed "dirty wars" in Latin America and South-East Asia, the purpose of such a campaign is not to precisely identify and kill enemy combatants but to target and terrorize the civilian population that supports them.  In many parts of Iraq, the occupation became a war against the entire population, characterized by indiscriminate violence, mass arrests, torture, collective punishment and illegal rules of engagement.  These included orders to "kill all military-age males" during certain operations [13]; "free fire" or "weapons free" zones [14]; "dead-checking" or killing wounded resistance fighters [15]; standing orders to call in air-strikes in civilian areas, even on apartment buildings full of people; and "360 degree rotational fire" on busy streets [16].  For most of the young Americans carrying out these orders, they were justified by propaganda that falsely linked the people of Iraq to the terrorist crimes in New York and Washington.  A Zogby Poll in 2006 found that 85% of American troops in Iraq believed that their mission was "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks." [17]

By the end of 2003, U.S. forces began recruiting Iraqi paramilitary units to fight under U.S. command.  The $87 billion war appropriation in November 2003 included $3 billion for a classified program headed by an Air Force brigadier-general to fund these paramilitary units.  The first units were comprised of Kurdish peshmerga militiamen and members of three former exile groups: the Iranian-trained Badr Brigades and the CIA-backed Iraqi National Congress and Iraqi National Accord.  As the American "dirty war" in Iraq escalated in the coming years, U.S. propaganda obscured its strictly American roots, blaming the Iraqis for the terror that was unleashed in their midst.  But the campaign was launched with the full support of important opinion-makers in the U.S.  Having apparently learnt nothing from the lies dressed up as secrets (and liars dressed up as experts) that launched the war in the first place, the Wall Street Journal declared in an editorial, "The Kurds and the Iraqi National Congress have excellent intelligence operations that we should allow them to exploit... especially to conduct counter-insurgency in the Sunni Triangle." [18] 

In March 2004, Stephen Grey investigated the assassination of Professor Abdul-Latif Ali al-Mayah in Baghdad for an article in the New Statesman.  Professor al-Mayah was the director of the Baghdad Center for Human Rights and the fourth professor from al-Mustansiriya University to be killed.  He died in a hail of bullets twelve hours after denouncing the corruption of the Iraqi Governing Council in a television interview with Al-Jazeera.  American officials blamed his death on "the guerillas", but a senior Iraqi  police officer gave Grey a very different account of his death.  After making him swear to protect his identity, the officer told Grey, "Dr. Abdul-Atif was becoming more and more popular because he spoke for people on the street here.  He made some politicians quite jealous... You can look no further than the Governing Council.  There are political parties in this city who are systematically killing people.  They are politicians that are backed by the Americans and who arrived to Iraq from exile with a list of their enemies.  I've seen these lists.  They are killing people one by one." [19]

Dr. Isam al-Rawi, the chairman of Iraq's Association of University Lecturers, compiled details of 300 academics and university staff killed in 2004.  He estimated that another 2,000 had already fled the country. [20]  The Minister of Education reported that another 296 faculty and staff were killed in 2005.  Dr. Al-Rawi stayed in Baghdad and he was assassinated outside his home there on October 30th 2006.  Iraqi novelist Haifa Zangana, herself a victim of Saddam Hussein exiled in London, wrote in the Guardian in 2006, "Like many Iraqis, I believe these killings are politically motivated and connected to the occupying forces' failure to gain any significant social support in the country.  For the occupation's aims to be fulfilled, independent minds have to be eradicated.  We feel that we are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq." [21]

Smoldering resistance bursts into flame

March 25th 2004 was a turning point for the Iraqi Resistance.  On that day, Paul Bremer announced that U.S. forces would not be departing Iraq after the nominal transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004.  In fact, all Iraqi forces recruited by the new government would remain under direct U.S. military command, and the U.S. would retain control of all "reconstruction" funds and of the political process in the Green Zone. [22]  Armed resistance had seemed premature to most Iraqis in September 2003, and 39% of Iraqis nationwide even told pollsters in February 2004 that they "supported the presence of coalition forces in Iraq", but Bremer's announcement lit the flame of resistance that had been smoldering beneath the surface for a year.  U.S. forces were forced to retreat to heavily fortified bases, and it was no longer safe for Westerners to travel through most of Iraq.  One perverse effect of this was that, for the next few years, Western journalists in Iraq were nearly always hunkered down in the Green Zone in Baghdad or "embedded" with U.S. forces.  This only enhanced their role as a malleable mouthpiece for the CENTCOM press office, unable to follow up on what they were told or to construct an alternative narrative of the war to the one that was spoon-fed to them in the Green Zone briefing room.

After four American mercenaries were killed in Fallujah and their bodies were burned and hung from a bridge, U.S. Marines launched a vicious assault on the city, in which dozens of civilians were killed or wounded by American snipers.  This provoked precisely the unified resistance that American officials feared most.  Muqtada Al-Sadr dispatched a unit of his Mahdi Army militia from Sadr City to Fallujah to fight alongside their Sunni brothers, and people all over Iraq collected relief supplies for the people in the beleaguered city.  Al-Sadr declared, "You are witnessing the union of Sunnis and Shiites toward an independent Iraq, free of terror and occupation.... Our sentiments are the same, our goal is one, and our enemy is one.  We say yes, yes to unity, yes to the closing of ranks, combating terror and ousting the infidel West from our sacred lands." [23]

U.S. forces called off the assault on Fallujah, leaving it and many other cities (and Sadr City in Baghdad) in the hands of the Resistance.  While resistance forces could not obtain funding from the central government to rebuild areas under their control, they could at least provide law and order and basic public services, and defend their communities from American attacks by organizing local resistance and mining roads.  At the same time, U.S. forces stepped up their propaganda campaign to demonize the Resistance and to blame it for the violence of the occupation.  The campaign's new poster child was the Jordanian "terrorist mastermind" Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.  A U.S. military intelligence officer described Zarqawi's role in U.S. propaganda to the Daily Telegraph:

"We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the lynch-pin of just about every attack in Iraq... Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions.  We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one." [24]

The process of staffing an interim government was nominally delegated to U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Foreign Minister of Algeria.  Brahimi traveled throughout Iraq meeting with civil society groups, and attended a conference in Baghdad in May 2004 that brought together many of these groups under a slogan taken from the anti-monarchist movement of the 1950s: Iraq for the Iraqis.  Brahimi had been the U.N's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, and he seems to have been sincere in his desire to end the occupation and restore Iraq's sovereignty.  He recommended that none of the members of the occupation's Iraqi Governing Council should have any role at all in the new government. [25]

But U.S. officials made the critical decisions, Brahimi was sidelined, long-time CIA and MI6 asset Ayad Allawi became Prime Minister and Iraq became sovereign in name only.  Brahimi finally broke his diplomatic silence at a press conference before leaving Iraq.  He told reporters, "Bremer is the dictator of Iraq.  He has the money.  He has the signature."  Pressed on who he would have chosen to head the interim government, he made the situation very clear, "I will not say who was my first choice and who was not my first choice... I will remind you that the Americans are governing this country." [26]

The Special Police Commandos

In June 2004, former CIA and MI6 asset Ayad Allawi became Interim Prime Minister of Iraq, supported by John Negroponte as U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad.  The Iraqi-American Falah al-Naqib was appointed Interior Minister, and Steven Casteel, who had run the Interior Ministry during the formal U.S. occupation, stayed on in Baghdad as Naqib's senior U.S. adviser.  In September 2004, Naqib appointed his uncle, an Iraqi general, to lead a new paramilitary force called the Special Police Commandos.  The training of these forces was entrusted to retired Colonel James Steele.

The backgrounds of these five men encompassed some of the darkest chapters of recent U.S. history.  When Ayad Allawi first offered his services to MI6, he was a Mukhabarat agent in London, spying on fellow Iraqi medical students.  He broadcast propaganda for the Saudis during the First Gulf War, and he was the figurehead of the CIA's hapless coup attempt against Saddam Hussein in 1996, which identified every CIA agent in the country to the Mukhabarat, denying the U.S. any genuine human intelligence in Iraq in the coming years. [27]

As Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon from 1964 to 1968, John Negroponte was involved in the rise of Nguyen Van Thieu and his election as President of South Vietnam in 1967.  As U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, he oversaw the "disguised, quiet, media-free" approach to America's dirty wars in Central America, which served as a model for more recent U.S. war policy around the world.  And from 2001 to 2004, he represented the United States at the United Nations as it committed aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq in violation of the U.N. Charter. [28]

Falah al-Naqib was the son of General Hassan al-Naqib, the former Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army, who defected to the U.S. in the 1970s and co-founded the Iraqi National Congress (INC) in 1992 with Ahmad Chalabi and the Rendon Group, a Washington public relations firm under contract to the CIA.  The INC's "Information Collection Program" fabricated most of the phony intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. [29]

Steven Casteel was the former Chief of Intelligence of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).  He worked for the DEA for 30 years, in the U.S., Peru, Bolivia and notably Colombia, where the DEA worked with Los Pepes, a death squad that became part of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitary force, who were responsible for about 75% of violent civilian deaths during more than a decade of dirty war.

After taking part in America's secret war in Cambodia, James Steele commanded the U.S. Military Advisor Group in El Salvador from 1984 to 1986, working with Salvadoran forces that killed tens of thousands of civilians.  He lied under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his role supervising shipments of weapons and supplies to the Contras in Nicaragua, but he avoided prosecution by giving evidence against the U.S. Ambassador, Edwin Corr. [30]  Steele later became a vice president with Enron.

  The Special Police Commandos were commanded by Naqib's uncle, General Adnan Thavit.  By October 2004, two battalions were operational, and four more were being recruited and trained.  General Thavit told Reuters that they included "police who have previous experience fighting terrorism, and also people who received special training under the former regime."  An American officer in Iskandariya told Reuters, "The hardest fighters we have are the former special forces from Saddam's days."  But one of the first units, the Wolf Brigade, was recruited mainly from the Iranian-trained Badr Brigade militia and was under the command of a Shiite general named Mohammed Qureshi, more commonly known as Abu Walid.  By November, the Wolf Brigade was in action suppressing the rebellion that broke out in Mosul during the U.S. assault on Fallujah. [31]

In January 2005, U.S. forces built a high-tech national operations center for the Special Police, complete with satellite phones, computers with uplinks to U.S. forces networks and direct connections to all U.S. bases and the Iraqi Interior Ministry.  A Special Police commander told a U.S. military reporter, "This is the first Iraqi force created in the organization of the Ministry of the Interior to fight the insurgency.  The Americans have provided the equipment, supplies, munitions, phones and training." [32]

American siege warfare and massacre in Fallujah

While the Special Police Commandos would soon become the American weapon of choice in Baghdad, the advent of the interim government also marked the beginning of a new campaign of direct U.S. military force to besiege, bombard and occupy other resistance-held cities.  U.S. forces attacked Najaf in August, Tal Afar in September, Samarra in October, and this campaign climaxed with the almost complete destruction of Fallujah in November 2004.  Ramadi was destroyed more gradually but almost as completely over the next three years.

These sieges were like English sieges in France during the Hundred Years War or sieges throughout history, using bombardment and deprivation to pressure civilians to surrender their cities or turn over resistance fighters, then using their refusal to do so to justify even greater violence against them.  U.S. forces systematically ignored modern prohibitions against collective punishment and against using starvation, thirst and deprivation as weapons of war against civilian populations.  On the other hand, they did not hesitate to bombard the besieged cities with modern weapons that Henry V could only have dreamt of.  In October 2005, Jean Ziegler, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, condemned the United States for "using hunger and deprivation of food or water as a weapon of war" in "a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law". [33]

Despite the criminal nature of these tactics, they were openly acknowledged as part of U.S. military doctrine in Iraq.  As the siege of Fallujah began, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey told the San Francisco Chronicle that civilians were being "encouraged" to leave Fallujah "by cutting off water and other supplies" as well as by aerial bombardment. [34]  Civilians who heeded American orders to flee besieged cities had to run the gauntlet of American check-points where they risked arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention without trial.  U.S. officials cited the fact that civilians had been ordered to leave as justification for bombing and starving those who remained, and they used vital supplies for the civilian population and the threat of bombardment as bargaining chips to demand that townspeople hand over resistance fighters.

U.S. forces bombed and starved Fallujah for three weeks before they began their final assault on the city.  Civilians streamed out of the city, but males between the ages of 15 and 55 were either detained or ordered back into the killing zone of the besieged and bombarded city. [35]  On November 8th, U.S. forces occupied Fallujah Hospital, across the river from the main part of the city.  Two smaller clinics in the heart of the city were bombed to the ground, killing doctors, staff and patients.  Dr. Sami al-Jumaili, who was working at the Central Health Center on the morning of November 9th, reported that 35 out of 60 patients were killed, including five small children, as well as at least four doctors, Drs. Abbas, Rabia, al-Kubaissy and Sheriff, and twenty other staff members. [36]

By November 9th, the Red Cross reported that at least 2,000 families whose homes had been destroyed were stranded in the open in the city with neither shelter, food, water nor any protection from bombardment and ground fire.  A U.N. Emergency Working Group reported on the 11th that this number had grown and would keep growing.  U.S. officials denied repeated requests from Dr. Chiad, the director of the hospital, that he be allowed to send doctors, ambulances and medical supplies into the city. [37]  On the 16th, Louise Arbour, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights demanded an investigation of the disproportionate use of force and the targeting of civilians in Fallujah, and that those responsible "should be brought to justice." [38]

Arab journalists in the city reported widespread indiscriminate killing of civilians.  Burhan Fasa'a of LBC Television in Lebanon spent nine days in a house with a population that swelled to 26 people.  With no means of evacuation, people who were wounded or whose houses were destroyed took shelter with neighbors or just huddled in the ruins.  Many died of their wounds.  Eventually a squad of Marines burst into the house, yelling orders in English that most of the residents didn't understand.  If people responded too slowly, they shot them on the spot.  "Americans did not have interpreters with them," Fasa'a explained, "so they entered houses and killed people because they didn't speak English... Soldiers thought the people were rejecting their orders, so they shot them.  But the people just couldn't understand them." [39]

As for the Iraqi Resistance, the nominal target of the assault, about half of its trained fighters were evacuated before the American assault began, many of them to launch a new front for the Resistance in Mosul.  Two U.S. Stryker battalions had been dispatched from Mosul to Fallujah to man a cordon around the city, but the Resistance operation in Mosul forced the U.S. command to withdraw them, leaving only a porous cordon around Fallujah and allowing other resistance fighters to escape the city.

The 1,000 trained and organized resistance fighters in the city when the assault began avoided direct confrontations with U.S. forces and took advantage of their better knowledge of the terrain.  The American battle plan relied on leap-frogging across the city, taking over strategic buildings as "lilly-pads", from which air strikes could be called in on strongholds of resistance.  This plan played into the hands of the Resistance.  After two weeks of fighting, U.S. forces had set up lilly-pads and snipers' nests across the city, but about 400 remaining Resistance fighters were still free to roam 60% of the city, and to ambush American patrols whenever they strayed too far from their bases. [40]  

A renewed American bombing campaign destroyed even more of the city, but, despite killing at least 4,000 civilians, U.S. forces never really defeated the Resistance in Fallujah.  The final scale of the bloodshed and destruction was hard to assess.  U.S. forces disposed of many bodies before relief workers were finally able to enter the city.  On December 25th and 26th, a team from the hospital went through 6 of the city's 28 residential districts and recovered 700 bodies, of which at least 550 were of women and children. [41]

On March 25th 2005, the chairman of the Fallujah Compensation Committee reported that the U.S. assault had destroyed 36,000 homes, 9,000 shops, 65 mosques, 60 schools, one of two bridges, both train stations, both power plants, three water treatment plants and the entire sewer and communications systems.  Local authorities reported that 60% of the houses in the city were either destroyed or uninhabitable.  By March 2006, less than 20% of the damaged houses had been repaired and neither water, electricity nor sanitation had been fully restored.  Only 24 of 81 public reconstruction projects had been completed, and many others were being cancelled for lack of funding.

  Western reporting on the destruction of Fallujah was distorted by imprecise data.  The Washington Post reported in April 2005 that 90,000 of the city's "250,000 residents", more than a third, had already returned, albeit "to find wide swaths of the town in ruin."  The U.N. claimed in March 2006 that 70% had returned - 230,000 out of 300,000.  But the U.N.'s official figure for the pre-war population of Fallujah was not 250,000 or 300,000, but 435,774.  The Iraqi government put it even higher, at 600,000, and Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, who had worked in Iraq for 25 years, found the higher number credible.  The higher population figures support the claim by the Study Centre for Human Rights and Democracy that there were 350,000 refugees from Fallujah stranded in the surrounding area following the destruction of the city, as well as many more scattered to the wind in other parts of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. [42]               


On February 15th 2005, following the election held in January, the still unified "Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces" met at the Umm Al-Qura mosque in Baghdad to discuss "proposals aiming at restoring Iraq's full independence, unity and sovereignty".  Twenty-one groups were represented at the meeting, including al-Sadr's Current Party, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Patriotic Front for the Liberation of Iraq, the Progressive Union of Iraqi Students, two women's groups, a communist party, a socialist party and the National Democratic Party.  Their joint statement made a clear distinction between resistance and terrorism, agreeing on:

"Acknowledgment of the principle of the right of the Iraqi people to reject occupation; recognition of the Iraqi Resistance and its legitimate right to defend its country and its resources; rejection of terrorism that takes aim at innocent Iraqis, facilities and institutions of public utility, and places of worship - mosques, Shia religious centers, churches and all holy places." [43]    

But, with the recruitment, training and deployment of the Special Police, the Resistance would soon face a new enemy, most notably in a dirty war against the secular middle class neighborhoods of Baghdad where Iraqi civil society still survived across sectarian and ethnic lines.  The election had pitted Shiite Islamists backed by Grand Ayatollah Sistani against the CIA's Ayad Allawi, who had supported the American destruction of Fallujah and earned the nick-name "Saddam without the moustache."  Turnout was officially 58%, the Shiite alliance only won about half the votes cast, there were effective boycotts in Anbar province and elsewhere, and the mandate for a religiously based government had no precedent or real popular support in Iraq.  A poll taken in Iraq a year earlier had found that only 21% of Iraqis wanted an "Islamist" state and that only 14% preferred religious politicians and parties over secular ones.  By presenting the public with such limited and compromised choices, the American experiment in "managed democracy" ensured a government that could rule only by force and that still needed American fire-power to protect it from its own people. [44] 

On April 4th 2005, the Interior Ministry announced the expansion of the Special Police to 24 battalions.  Generals Thavit and Abu Walid were by then household names thanks to a grotesque "reality TV" program called "Terrorism in the Grip of Justice", in which a parade of badly beaten Iraqis confessed to resistance activities, gruesome murders, and often homosexuality for good measure, on the U.S.-backed Al-Iraqiya television station.  The program was quickly linked to real crimes when the body of a policeman who "confessed" to killing two of his fellow officers was delivered to his family a few days after his confession was broadcast. [45]  In July 2005, an Iraqi lawyers' association identified 27 people who were still alive despite the televised confessions of their alleged murderers, exposing the program as a farcical propaganda campaign. [46]

As the U.S.-backed Islamist transitional government prepared to take office, the head of the Badr Brigade militia, Bayan al-Jabr, was appointed to be its new Interior Minister.  Steven Casteel remained in Baghdad as his senior U.S. adviser.  The Los Angeles Times reported that the new government planned to "unleash well-trained Iraqi commandos in Baghdad and other trouble spots," adding that, "The special forces units have a reputation for effectiveness and brutality."  Commandos raided some Sunni mosques in Baghdad and Baquba in April, killing a local imam.  General Abu Walid of the Wolf Brigade made no secret of what was to come, "We are studying Baghdad now, to be ready for any mission we are assigned.  Baghdad is filled with terrorists." [47]

The first sign that the Special Police Commandos' dirty war in Baghdad had begun was the discovery of fourteen bodies in a shallow grave in the Kasra-Wa-Atash industrial district.  The bodies bore classic signs of torture, including broken skulls, other broken bones and burns.  Many had their right eyeballs removed.  They were identified as fourteen farmers who had been arrested at a vegetable market in Baghdad on May 5th.  They were from Maidan, where occupation forces had recently encountered armed resistance, and the message to the people of Maidan was graphic and clear, that this was the price they should expect to pay for resistance to the occupation. [48]

In successive weeks, months and years, tens of thousands of men and boys in Baghdad met similar fates, leading ultimately to the ethnic cleansing of the city.  The tide of death would peak in 2006, with more than 1,600 bodies of victims of extra-judicial execution delivered to morgues in Baghdad each month between July and October, under cover of the U.S. Operation Together Forward.  In April 2006, an Iraqi human rights group, the Organization for Follow-Up and Monitoring, matched thousands of morgue records with reports of arrests and abductions.  It found that 92% of the bodies brought to the morgues matched the names and descriptions of people who had been detained by Interior Ministry forces.  Sunni Arabs were the main targets, and many of the Special Police commandos involved had backgrounds in the Iranian-trained Badr Brigades. [49]  

But the Western perception of "sectarian violence", and of a long history of communal violence in Iraq was a myth, albeit one that served a very definite purpose: to obscure the fact that these crimes were committed by Iraqi paramilitary forces recruited, trained and armed by the United States, and that these forces were operating under U.S. command through a jointly staffed command center and Special Police Transition Teams (SPTT) comprised mainly of U.S. special forces officers.

A history of Shiism in Iraq

Through most of its history, Iraq was sparsely populated by nomadic Arab tribes who practiced the Sunni form of Islam.  Small Persian colonies grew up at different times around the Shiite shrines of Najaf and Karbala, but retained their Persian identity, living under Persian law and exempt from Ottoman authority.  Their growth was severely limited by the lack of any reliable source of water in the area. [50]

In the 18th century, Persian pilgrims to the shrines were joined by new pilgrims from the thriving Shiite kingdom of Oudh, around Lucknow in northern India.  Between 1790 and 1803, the government of Oudh financed the construction of the Hindiyya (India) Canal to provide Najaf with a reliable source of drinking water for the first time in its history, enabling it to grow from a small town to a wealthy city. [51]

The availability of newly fertile land around Najaf facilitated the Ottoman policy of "settling" and "civilizing" the Arab tribes, transforming their tribal identity and traditional nomadic way of life into a "modern" life as peasant farmers and townspeople, and making them subject to taxation and conscription.  By 1867, only 23% of people in central Iraq retained their traditional nomadic way of life, but settlement moved slower in the south, where 50% still lived as nomads. [52]  A sweeping new property law passed in 1869 accelerated the settlement of the tribes in southern Iraq, gradually transforming tribal leaders into wealthy, often absentee, landlords and most of their people into poor tenant farmers.  Like the Inclosure Acts in England, the highland clearances in Scotland, the genocide of Native Americans and subsequent privatizations of common land all over the world, this process led to highly concentrated land ownership.  By the time of the 1958 revolution in Iraq, 55% of its agricultural land was owned by less than 1% of its population. [53]

As Arab tribes settled on newly fertile agricultural land around Najaf and Karbala, tribal leaders and the Ottoman government encouraged their conversion to Shiism, to provide them with new identities and loyalties that would gradually replace the traditions of their nomadic, tribal culture.  The Persian clerics in the shrine cities had their own reasons for encouraging their conversion, to build a new base of financial and political support in what were now large permanent colonies, and to ensure the future security of the shrines following attacks by Saudi marauders in 1801, local Arab tribes in 1814 and the Ottoman army in 1843. [54]

By 1905, 72% of workers in southern Iraq were employed in agriculture, while only 19% retained their traditional nomadic way of life.  By the time the British conducted their first census of occupied Iraq in 1919, 53% of the population identified themselves as Shia Muslims. [55]

Following the national uprising against British rule in 1920, Persian clerics were deported and the political power of the Shiite clerics in the shrine cities was effectively marginalized.  The former Ottoman officers who had led the uprising were co-opted to form a ruling circle around King Faisal, a fellow Sunni Arab.  The important trends in the history of 20th century Iraq were nationalism, secularism and urbanization. [56]

As land ownership was consolidated, millions of poor Shiites from the south migrated to Baghdad, making up 50% of its population by 1958.  New urban classes in Baghdad included newly wealthy tribal leaders and a newly educated Shiite middle class.  Influential Shiites controlled the Ministry of Education throughout the 1930s, and one of them, Salih Jabir, became Prime Minister in 1947.  When most of the old Jewish business class, which comprised 43% of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce in 1939, emigrated or fled to Israel in 1948, the vacuum was largely filled by a predominantly Shiite business class.  But by 1958, exposure to modern secular education and culture and the influence of the Iraqi Communist Party had largely eroded both the religious observance and the sectarian identity of urban Shiites. [57]  As a Shiite man married to a Sunni woman told The Times following a Special Police raid in the Iskan district of Baghdad in October 2005, "In the 1970s no one talked about Shiites or Sunnis - I don't think my father knew which sect he belonged to." [58] 

The shrine cities and their Shiite clerics had diminishing influence in secular 20th century Iraq.  The population of Karbala shrank from 50,000 in 1908 to 25,000 in 1928, while Najaf only grew from 45,000 to 58,000 between 1918 and 1947, even as the population of Iraq mushroomed.  New citizenship laws forced Persians to adopt Iraqi nationality or leave the country.  Influential new madrasas in Qum eclipsed those of Najaf and Karbala.  The very links to Persia and foreign Shiite communities that had catalyzed the growth of Shiism in Iraq in the 19th century exacerbated the loss of influence of the Shiite clergy in secular 20th century Iraq.  The Dawa party that was eventually brought to power by the U.S. occupation was formed in 1957 to counter secularism and atheism in Iraq, but it built its political base in exile in London, Tehran and Damascus rather than in Iraq. [59]

In the 1950s, urbanized Shiites played major roles in several of the parties that formed the United National Front that opposed the monarchy: Jabir's Popular Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the National Democratic Party and the Baath Party.  The Baath Party was led by a Shiite, Fuad al-Rikabi, a young engineer from Nasiriyah. [60]  Although Saddam Hussein's inner circle included a small group of his own relatives and fellow Tikritis, and Sunni Arabs dominated the officer corps of the Iraqi Army, as they had since 1920, Shiite Arabs were a majority in the broader leadership of the Baathist government.  A researcher at the U.S. Library of Congress noted in 1990, "Observers believed that in the late 1980s Shias were represented at all levels of the party roughly in proportion to their numbers in the population... On the Regional Command Council - the ruling body of the party - Shias actually predominated." [61]

Raed Jarrar and other Iraqis have examined the ethnicity of the 55 Iraqis depicted on the pack of playing cards issued to U.S. invasion forces in 2003 as targets for death or capture, and concluded that about 35 out of 55 were Shiite Arabs.  Iraqis were understandably baffled by American propaganda that conflated Sunnism with Baathism. [62]  As the Iraqi blogger Riverbend wrote in 2006, "Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind that most of his government were Shia)." [63]

Since the majority of Baathist officials were Shiites, we must conclude that American officials had ulterior reasons to demonize Sunnis, link them to Baathism and unleash genocidal violence against them.  This strategy enabled the Americans to present themselves as the guardians of the majority Shiite population and the Kurds, and to forestall the united resistance that the CIA had warned of in November 2003.  'Divide and rule' policies require occupying powers to identify and target ethnic and political groups in this way, and the Americans were prepared to use as much force as necessary to do so and to destroy the fabric of secular Iraqi society in the process.  Although the violence of the occupation was a full frontal assault on Iraqi civil society that transcended sect and ethnicity, it eventually killed at least 10% of the Sunni Arab population and drove about half of the Sunni Arabs in Iraq out of their homes, either into exile or internal displacement.  This was a prima facie case of genocide by the United States.

Framing its war in Iraq as part of a larger war against Islamic extremism required U.S. propaganda to exaggerate or invent religious or sectarian motives for the Iraqi Resistance.  But Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times surveyed resistance fighters in U.S. custody in Iraq in March 2008 and found that only a third of them claimed any religious motivation.  Among juvenile detainees, only 10% were motivated by religion.  Despite persistent efforts by American propagandists to cast the violence of the occupation in religious or sectarian terms, the Iraqi Resistance maintained a primarily secular and nationalist orientation. [64]

U.S.-led death squads or "sectarian violence" 

As the Special Police Commandos were unleashed on Baghdad in May 2005, their role in atrocities was quickly recognized and reported in the international Arab media.  Two of the seven victims of an extra-judicial execution behind a mosque in Ore on May 15th survived, and identified their would-be executioners as members of the Wolf Brigade.  One of the survivors was then taken from his hospital bed by Interior Ministry forces and never seen again.  Hareth al-Dari of the Muslim Scholars' Association told Islam Online on May 17th, "The mass killings and the crackdown and detention campaigns in northeastern Baghdad over the past two days by members of the Iraqi police or by an Interior Ministry special force known as the Wolf Brigade are part of a state terror policy."  Even the commander of the Iraqi National Guard confirmed that the Wolf Brigade was the unit responsible for these operations. [65]

Muqtada al-Sadr made a rare public appearance to prohibit his followers from taking part in this campaign.  "Any action targeting unarmed civilians is forbidden under any circumstances", he said in Najaf.  "All Sunnis cannot be held responsible for the terrorist deeds of the occupiers and the Wahabis."  He reiterated this warning again two months later, adding, "The occupation itself is the problem.  Iraq not being independent is the problem.  And other problems stem from that - from sectarianism to civil war.  The entire American presence causes this." [66]

On May 19th, the Arab League discussed the new pattern of violence in Iraq at a meeting in Cairo.  Secretary General Amr Moussa urged "all Iraqi parties to show restraint and act responsibly in the face of those who try to sow the seeds of discord between Iraq's communities," a veiled reference to the U.S. role. [67]

But American reporting on the emerging dirty war in Baghdad quickly took an Orwellian turn.  Steven Casteel was regularly quoted blaming torture and executions on "insurgents" in stolen police uniforms.  Knight Ridder's Yasser Salihee conducted a thorough investigation, but he was shot and killed by an American sniper before his work could be published.  When it posthumously published the results of Salihee's work, Knight Ridder pointed out that Casteel's claims were not consistent with the numerous eyewitness accounts of Special Police raids that Salihee had collected, but it failed to follow up on its own questions, "about how insurgents are getting expensive new police equipment.  The Toyotas, which cost more than $55,000 apiece, and Glocks, at about $500 each, are hard to come by in Iraq, and they're rarely used by anyone other than Western contractors and Iraqi security forces." [68]

But Salihee's investigations had already established that none of these cases involved small groups of men with police uniforms and one or two police vehicles.  They all involved well-organized raids by large groups of Special Police commandos with ten to thirty clearly-marked police vehicles and the full complement of equipment issued to the commandos by their American trainers.  This included radios connected to U.S. military networks via the high-tech Special Police Command Center, which was staffed by American as well as Iraqi personnel.

The response of U.S. officials to these crimes gradually transitioned from a narrative of "insurgents in stolen police uniforms" to one of "sectarian violence".  Once the perpetrators' links to the occupation government could no longer be denied, they were simply deemed irrelevant to their crimes, which were instead presented as the result of the infiltration of legitimate security forces by Shiite militias.  The term "Shiite militia" was used to obscure the fundamental difference between Special Police Commandos, including Badr Brigade militiamen, operating as death squads for the occupation government and local Mahdi militiamen trying to defend their neighborhoods from attacks and raids by U.S.-led forces.  The Centcom press office naturally blamed al-Sadr's Mahdi militia for atrocities whenever it could get away with it, gradually constructing the narrative of "sectarian violence" with which we are only too familiar.

By July 2005, the Guardian was able to identify six facilities in Baghdad where torture was taking place: the seventh floor of the Interior Ministry; al-Hadoud prison in the Kharkh district; the basement of a clinic in Shoula; al-Muthanna airbase; the old National security headquarters; and of course the Nissor Square headquarters of the Wolf Brigade.  Credible reports of torture included the use of hot irons and electric drills, and of being 'sat on the bottle', a brutal form of sodomy.  The seventh floor of the Interior Ministry was one floor below the offices of U.S. advisers and the reputed headquarters of the CIA in Baghdad. [69]

In September 2005, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq published the first of many Human Rights Reports, with more details of atrocities committed by the Special Police.  John Pace, the author of the report, left Iraq in February 2006 and gave several interviews, in which he identified Interior Minister Bayan al-Jabr as the commander of the Badr Brigade militia, confirmed that U.S. officials knew about torture in Iraqi prisons and estimated that 80 to 90% of the victims were innocent of any crime, making their plight all the more frightful.  Asked to compare the U.S.-led reign of terror with that of Saddam Hussein, he said, "It is certainly as bad.  It extends over a much wider section of the population." [70]

A report in The Times on October 9th 2005 made clear the distinction between the Interior Ministry/ Badr Brigade forces and al-Sadr's Mahdi militia.  After a raid by about 40 police vehicles in Iskan took away 22 men, the Times reporter discovered that they were all Sunni men married to Shiite women.  Whereas other raids were already causing people to flee their neighborhoods in Baghdad, the mixed nature of these families and their neighborhood made the option of flight seem more dangerous than staying put.  Instead the community came together under the leadership of the Mahdi militia to "set up an armed force of their own to defend themselves against future raids." [71]

The horrors of the Interior Ministry's prisons were publicly exposed when a U.S. regular army unit discovered the al-Jadiriyah interrogation center.  U.S. officials expressed shock at the discovery, but one official finally admitted eight months later that, "The military had been at the bunker prior to the raid in November, but they said nothing."  A U.N. investigation found that 101 of the 168 prisoners had been tortured, and that at least 18 others had already been tortured to death.  One of the prisoners was Professor Tareq Sammaree (Ph.D. Kansas), the former director of Baghdad University's School of Education.  He was missing his front teeth and three toenails, he had a wound on his shin caused by a hot skewer and his spine was damaged by beatings with electric cables.  His captors had also threatened to rape his daughters if he did not reveal the locations of other academics they were searching for, but Dr. Sammaree kept silent because he was convinced that he would be killed as soon as his captors thought he had told them what he knew.  He was hospitalized after the U.S. raid and escaped from the hospital with the help of an American soldier.  He then smuggled his family out of Iraq and sought political asylum in Europe. [72]

In the wake of the "discovery" of al-Jadiriyah, the Special Police were rebranded as the National Police.  The New York Times questioned former interim Interior Ministry Falah al-Naqib about the composition of these forces.  The U.S. propaganda narrative by now blamed their atrocities on their infiltration by "Shiite militias", but Naqib admitted that "the majority of commando officers working in the ministry now were appointed by him".  He acknowledged recruiting many members of the Badr Brigade, although "not nearly as many as Mr. Jabr."  Naqib's statement confirmed that, despite their expansion and deployment in Baghdad under Jabr, the nature and composition of these forces was largely consistent from their inception under Allawi, Negroponte, Casteel, Steele and himself in 2004 through the depths of the dirty war in Baghdad in 2005 and 2006. [73]

The role of U.S. Special Police Transition Teams working with these forces throughout this period is also well documented.  Each Iraqi unit generally had at least two U.S. officers attached to it, usually from U.S. Special Forces units.  In November 2005,  the U.S. advisers attached to the Wolf Brigade were from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the "Nightstalkers".  One of these officers blogged about taking part in a battalion-sized operation in southern Baghdad on November 10th that netted "vehicle after vehicle of blindfolded detainees". [74]

The ethnic cleansing of Baghdad

The dirty war in Baghdad presented the Iraqi Resistance with a new challenge.  The murderous assault on neighborhoods that resisted the occupation caused more families to flee the capital, and the sectarian basis on which the attacks were targeted left Sunni and mixed secular districts more isolated.  But it also united communities like Adhamiya, Dora, Mansour and Iskan in increasingly effective resistance to the Interior Ministry death squads.  By early 2006, the failure of the death squads to break the back of the Resistance led to a U.S. plan to escalate the direct use of U.S. forces in Baghdad, effectively providing air and ground support to the death squads in what one of the plan's proponents, Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute, described as a "second liberation of Baghdad".  According to a report in the Sunday Times, "The battle for Baghdad is expected to entail a 'carrot-and-stick' approach, offering the beleaguered population protection from sectarian violence in exchange for rooting out insurgent groups and al-Qaeda." [75]

The first evidence of this campaign was a new assault on Adhamiya by National Police Commandos, supported by U.S. troops and observed by U.S. helicopters overhead throughout the operation.  Following Special Police raids in 2005 in which residents were arrested, tortured and murdered, community leaders negotiated a deal with U.S. and Iraqi officials by which the Iraqi National Guard could patrol the neighborhood as long as Interior Ministry forces were kept out.  This had worked well for the community.  When the Special Police tried to conduct another raid, a National Guard officer tipped off the Resistance and even provided weapons for the residents to defend themselves.  The community had also used the respite to barricade entrances to the neighborhood with tree trunks and tires and to step up the organization and training of residents by experienced Resistance fighters.

Then, at about 1 a.m. on the night of April 16th, 40 National Police vehicles stormed into Adhamiya from three directions, including through a U.S. checkpoint on a bridge.  When they withdrew after two hours of heavy fighting, 9 local men and one woman were dead, along with at least one police commando, and six of the police vehicles had been immobilized and torched.  Residents reported U.S. ground troops supporting the Interior Ministry forces, but only observing at this stage.  Later, U.S. forces and Iraqi National Guards re-entered Adhamiya and attacked Resistance forces defending the local police station.  After hours of sporadic fighting, a National Guard commander came forward to negotiate a truce with community leaders.  He claimed that the entire operation had been based on a misunderstanding and that he and the Americans had believed "insurgents" were attacking the police station. [76]

On the following day, the Iraqi National Guard resumed patrols in the neighborhood, but another fire-fight erupted between them and the local guards at the al-Anbia mosque, apparently triggered by someone seeking revenge for an earlier incident.  U.S. troops again stormed into Adhamiya with guns blazing, but soon withdrew.  This entire operation appears to have been a probing mission to gauge Adhamiya's defenses, and this would explain the constant presence of American helicopters observing the fighting.

The composition of the Iraqi Resistance units in Adhamiya contradicted the American narrative of "sectarian violence".  A resident who had seen four neighbors killed in March told the New York Times that her block was now protected by a "watch group" of seven men, both Sunnis and Shiites, who stood watch on rooftops every night from midnight until 6 a.m.  The National Police responded to increasingly effective resistance to night-time raids by instead abducting people on their way to or from work, like the 14 young men driving home in a minibus from Sinek to the Slekh district who were abducted and killed in April 2006. [77]

As a result of the election in December 2005, a new Iraqi government was finally seated in May 2006, and Bayan al-Jabr was replaced as Interior Minister by Jawad al-Bulani, who was expected in some quarters to clean up the excesses of the Interior Ministry death squads.  Bulani signed 52 arrest warrants for officials implicated in torture and extra-judicial killing, but Kofi Annan noted in a report several months later that the warrants were not actually served.  It soon became apparent that Jabr's deputy, another Badr Brigade commander named Adnan al-Asadi, had remained in his post and retained effective control over the National Police. [78]  In fact, al-Asadi remains in that position at the time of writing in 2011, and he was spotted directing operations from a roof-top against peaceful "Arab Spring" protesters in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on the "Day of Martyrs", March 4th 2011, when at least 24 protesters were killed. [79]

The first of the new American offensives, Operation Together Forward, began on June 24th 2006.  It was superseded by Operation Together Forward II in August.  15,000 additional U.S. troops were deployed to Baghdad to conduct joint operations with Iraqi Army and National Police units.  The stated objective was to target both Sunni resistance fighters and Shiite death squads.  But when General Thurman announced the districts to be targeted, four out of five were the same Sunni or mixed secular neighborhoods that had already been under attack by National Police death squads for over a year: Adhamiya, Dora, Mansour and Ghazaliya.

Some American junior officers and troops soon realized that their Iraqi partners in these operations were none other than the death squads who were one of the nominal targets of the operation, but they were dependent on the Iraqis for the "intelligence" that provided their targets, and individual U.S. officers in the field could not do much to affect the overall nature of the campaign.  The effect of the two Operation Together Forwards was in fact to reinforce the death squad campaign, propelling it to a climax in which with thousands of corpses overwhelmed the morgues as never before.  The 1,600 bodies of extra-judicial execution victims brought to morgues in July were double the death toll in February.  The death toll continued to rise until October, and only finally began to decline in November after Operation Together Forward ended. [80]

Operations by Iraqi resistance forces continued to rise in parallel with the U.S. escalation, running at 500 attacks per week against U.S. forces and 200 per week against U.S.-led Iraqi forces in July and August 2006. [81]  But the escalation of state-supported violence in Baghdad was succeeding in one respect.  It was starting to drive large numbers of people from their homes.  The U.N. reported that the four months of Operation Together Forward I & II almost doubled the number of people internally displaced in Iraq, from 300,000 to 583,000.  Half the population of Adhamiya had fled by early 2007.  The year 2006 saw the largest migration of people both within and out of the country, leaving 5 million Iraqis living as refugees by 2008.  An estimated 40% of the professional class eventually fled the country, including more than half the surviving doctors - after at least 2,000 doctors were killed. [82]

In July 2006, Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Torture, met with Iraqi torture victims in Amman, Jordan.  He told German public television, "Many of them credibly report that in their view the situation is now worse than it was under Saddam Hussein.  Under his dictatorship there was also terrible torture, but one could at least predict who would have to fear being tortured. Today, on the other hand, the security situation is out of control to such an extent that in the final analysis every person can become a victim of abductions, summary executions, and the worst methods of torture: people's limbs are being amputated, their fingers are missing, their eyes have been put out." [83]

Operation Together Forward I & II were followed by the so-called "Surge" in 2007, a massive escalation of American firepower that included a five-fold increase in air strikes as well as the use of Spectre gun-ships and artillery in urban areas and an increase in assassination operations by U.S. Special Forces.  Despite reductions in violence between Iraqis, the rate of U.S. air strikes did not peak until January 2008, with 400 conducted that month.  The "Surge" was a devastating climax to five years of bombardment, torture, murder and collective punishment inflicted on the people of Iraq.  After some tribal leaders in Anbar province and local warlords in Baghdad were bought off, remaining resistance-held areas were targeted with overwhelming firepower, mainly from the air. [84]

As the prospect emerged that the "Surge" might lead to a genuine U.S. withdrawal, Muqtada al-Sadr ordered a Mahdi militia ceasefire in August 2007, which he later extended indefinitely.  Al-Sadr and the millions of Iraqis who support him have walked a fine line in a difficult and life-threatening environment, maintaining solid opposition and resistance to occupation while also retaining influence in the National Assembly and within the U.S.-backed government.  Hundreds of thousands of them took to the streets in October 2008 to pressure the Maliki government over its proposed Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S., and they remain ready to take up arms again if the Americans fail to honor their commitment to a full withdrawal in December 2011.

American leaders hailed the "Surge" as a successful operation that reduced the level of violence in Iraq.  These claims were based on the false premise that Iraqi resistance forces were the source of the violence sweeping the country, and that the escalation of U.S. military operations finally defeated these forces.  In fact, U.S. occupation forces and their Iraqi and other allies were the perpetrators of most of the violence in Iraq throughout the war, and their invasion and occupation of Iraq was the cause of all of it.  It was therefore entirely possible at any point for the occupation forces to achieve a reduction in violence by scaling back their own operations, as they finally did after the "Surge" in 2008.


For eight years of U.S. occupation, Iraqis resisted the excessive and indiscriminate use of powerful battlefield weapons that were originally designed to repel a Soviet invasion of Europe, coupled with a dirty war that enlisted the worst of their own countrymen to murder and torture them by the tens of thousands.  But their steadfast resistance made continued occupation counter-productive for the United States.  

Iraqi resistance also made it impossible for the Maliki government to survive politically without establishing its independence from U.S. interests.  Maliki earned whatever measure of legitimacy he now holds by standing up to his American puppet-masters over the Status of Forces Agreement, the Hydrocarbon Law and other issues.  The U.S. goal of privatizing the Iraqi oil industry through Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) with Western companies was scuttled by the steadfast opposition of the Iraqi National Assembly, the General Union of Oil Employees and the public.  The Iraqi Resistance ensured that the U.S. goal of building long-term military bases in Iraq would carry a virtually unlimited price tag of endless guerilla war and instability, making it ultimately futile and self-defeating.

The Obama administration launched a "civilian surge" in Iraq, doubling the already bloated deployment of State Department staff at the U.S. Embassy and other offices to 2,400, and hiring 7,000 mercenaries to protect them after U.S. forces withdrew. [85]  But there was very little that the State Department could do to salvage the U.S. position in Iraq.  Trade figures for 2010 show that, apart from a short-lived bonanza for military contractors and significant oil imports, American firms have not "followed the flag" into Iraq.  The firms exporting goods and services to Iraq as it starts to recover from years of war and occupation are from Turkey, Iran, China, Syria and the European Union.  The American occupiers are the last people on Earth that Iraqis want to do business with, and Obama's civilian surge can do very little to mitigate this total, self-inflicted, multi-faceted defeat for U.S. commercial and geopolitical interests. [86]

As the "Arab Spring" plays out across the Middle East, the U.S-backed but increasingly independent government in Iraq has behaved exactly as its neighbors have done, shooting, detaining and torturing peaceful protesters, and using every means of state power to break up or prevent demonstrations.  But tens of thousands of people flooded into squares in cities all over Iraq in February, March and April 2011 for a "Day of Rage", a "Day of Martyrs" a "Day of Truth" and a "Friday of the Free".

Asma al-Haidari took part in the "Friday of the Free" rally in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on April 15th, while 5,000 people, Sunnis and Shiites from all over Iraq, camped out in The Square of the Free in Mosul for more than a week and others took to the streets in Basra, Sulaymaniya and in Anbar, Babil and Diwaniya provinces.  Here are some of Asma's thoughts about the demonstrations, " tears are streaming down uncontrollably... it was amazing and enthralling!  The crushed Iraqi middle class in all its colors and hues is out and will remain out - this is the beginning of civil disobedience - all very peaceful but full of force and commands respect and a bowing of our heads to them.  The women who are in Tahrir are in the hundreds - all women whose sons or husbands have disappeared in Maliki's and the occupation's secret prisons - Iraqis have broken the chains - the world should watch out - but the world is so silent and apparently deaf and blind as well.  Can't the world see that this revolution is totally different - that we are a people and a country under occupation - and that we have slowly started to take our rights back and to free ourselves?" [87]

In Mosul, American helicopters flew over and dumped bags of garbage on the protesters.  According to Asma, "When the people in the Square of the Free were asked for comments, their answers were that the Americans throw garbage at us every day - all the enriched uranium; all the white phosphorus; all the drugs and AIDS; all the disease, tyranny, oppression, plunder, theft, lies and illiteracy they brought with them amongst much more - so we, Iraqis, know everything and we will have justice at the end of the day when a new dawn comes - the feeling is that it is going to be quite soon."   

The people of Iraq did not seek violence.  They had violence thrust upon them by a brutal, brainwashed American occupation force allied with unscrupulous Iraqi exiles.  American officials were fully prepared to reduce the fate of the Iraqi people to a bloody struggle in which they believed that their own far greater capacity for violence would ultimately prove decisive.  As in Vietnam, they discovered that their weapons could destroy Iraq but could not conquer it. 

For historians who share a personal commitment to peace and non-violence, armed resistance poses a special problem.  It would be hypocritical in the extreme for American historians to condemn a resistance movement that emerged only in response to the violence unleashed by our own country.  Even the U.N. Charter, which binds all countries to settle their differences only by peaceful means, nevertheless recognizes the "inherent" nature of the right to self-defense.  Tragically though, we understand only too well how armed resistance is used to justify even greater violence by those responsible for all the violence in the first place.  U.S. propaganda seized on the armed resistance movement in Iraq to justify years of aerial bombardment, mass incarceration, torture, indiscriminate and excessive uses of force and the destruction of the entire country.  At least a million Iraqis were killed, and the high proportion of women (5%), children (9%) and elderly people (4%) among the dead make clear the indiscriminate nature of much of the slaughter.  Air strikes were the leading cause of violent death for children in occupied Iraq, underlining the inherently indiscriminate nature of air-launched weapons. [88]

Indiscriminate state violence leads people to feel that they are as likely to killed or tortured as innocent civilians as if they take up arms and fight back.  Active resistance can at least restore the dignity and autonomy that they have lost as passive victims of occupation.  As Albert Camus wrote in the underground newspaper Combat in occupied Paris in March 1944, " will be killed, deported or tortured as a sympathizer just as easily as if you were a militant.  Act: your risk will be no greater, and you will at least share in the peace at heart that the best of us take with them into the prisons." [89]

The rest of the world owes such people the only kind of support that can invalidate the rationale for armed resistance: the genuine restoration of legitimacy, sovereignty, independence and self-determination that they are willing to fight and die for.

In 2011, the Arab Spring embraced principles of non-violent resistance, and quickly overthrew two dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.  But the region's autocrats and their Western allies quickly recovered from the initial shock, and regimes in Bahrain, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Yemen and the new military junta in Egypt used violence to stifle non-violent revolution, at least in the short term.  The United States continues to supply weapons, training and direct military support by U.S. special forces to reverse the tide of democracy sweeping West Asia and North Africa.  In Libya and Syria, NATO and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies were instrumental in turning originally non-violent democracy movements into bloody civil wars.

The outcome remains uncertain in all these countries, but the Iraqi Resistance did achieve something of historical importance.  At enormous cost, it established that the United States can no more dictate the future of West Asia by the direct use of military force than it could dictate the future of South-East Asia by the same means a generation ago.  In a world where the United States stands alone as the only country in the world that is committed to the global threat and use of military force against other countries, its effective defeat at the hands of the Iraqi Resistance was an important step in our world's halting progress toward universal and lasting peace.

1.  "Manningham-Buller voices hopes for Al Qaeda peace talks," BBC News, September 2 2011.

2.  U.S. Department of State, Country reports on terrorism, 2001-2010.

3.  Philippe Naughton and David Brown, "Lawyer's memo contradicts Jack Straw's evidence to Chilcot inquiry," The Times, January 26 2010; Michael Savage, "Invade and be damned: Foreign Office lawyers say advice on legality of war was ignored," The Independent, January 27 2010.



6.  William Booth and Rajiv Candrasekaram, "Occupation forces halt elections throughout Iraq," Washington Post, June 28 2003, Page A20.

7.  Sarah Left, "U.S. troops kill 13 Iraqi protesters," The Guardian, April 29 2003.

8.  Sami Ramadani, "Patriots and invaders," The Guardian, September 27 2003.

9.  Jonathan S. Landay, "More Iraqis supporting resistance, CIA report says," Knight Ridder Newspapers, November 11 2003. 

10.  Michael E. O'Hanlon et al., Iraq Index: Tracking variables of reconstruction and security in post-Saddam Iraq, (Washington: The Brookings Institution), February 28 2008, 8.

11.  Seymour Hersh, "Moving targets," The New Yorker, December 15 2003.

12.  Michael Hersh and John Barry, "The Salvador option," Newsweek, January 8 2005.

13.  Robert F. Worth, "Sergeant tells of plot to kill Iraqi detainees," New York Times, July 28 2006.

14.  Kevin Sites, "Marines let loose on streets of Fallujah," NBC News, November 10 2004; Victoria Welch, "Vermont vets speak out against Iraq war," Burlington Free Press, January 20 2007.

15.  "Marine: beating of Iraqis became routine," Associated Press, July 15 2007. ; Evan Wright, "Dead-Check in Falluja," Village Voice, November 24-30 2004.

16.  Bill Van Auken, "US soldier in Wikileaks massacre video: "I relive this every day"," World Socialist Web Site, April 28 2010.


18.  Robert Dreyfus, "Phoenix rising," American Prospect, January 1 2004.

19.  Stephen Grey, "Rule of the death squads," New Statesman, March 15 2004.

20.  Charles Crain, "Approximately 300 academics have been killed," USA Today, January 16 2005.

21.  Haifa Zangana, "Death of a professor," The Guardian, February 28 2006.

22.  John Burns and Thom Shanker, "U.S. officials fashion legal basis to keep forces in Iraq," New York Times, March 26 2004.

23.  Anthony Shadid, Night Draws Near, (New York: Picador, 2007), 449.

24.  Adrian Blomfield, "How US fuelled myth of Zarqawi the mastermind," Daily Telegraph, March 10 2004.


26.  Tom Lasseter, "Brahimi: Bremer the 'dictator of Iraq' in shaping Iraqi government", Knight Ridder Newspapers, June 2 2004.

27.  Scott Ritter, Iraq Confidential, (New York: Nation Books, 2005), 161-9.

28.  David Bennett, "John Negroponte: career of a conservative idealist", Perspectives on World History and Current Events, 2005.

29.  "List of articles cited by the Information Collection Program (ICP)", Knight Ridder Newspapers, May 15 2004.

30.  Lawrence E. Walsh, "Final report of the independent counsel for Iran/Contra matters", United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, August 4 1993.

31.  Sgt. Jared Zabaldo, "Iraq interior ministry forms police commando battalions", American Forces Press Service, October 20 2004; Alastair Macdonald, "U.S. sends in secret weapon: Saddam's old commandos", Reuters, November 27 2004.

32.  Sgt. Matt Murphy, "Iraqi police commandos get connected", DefendAmerica News, February 11 2005.

33.  "UN food envoy says coalition breaking law in Iraq", Reuters, October 14 2005.

34.   Matthew B. Stannard, "U.S., Iraqi troops mass for assault on Fallujah", San Francisco Chronicle, November 6 2004.

35.  "U.S. won't let men flee Fallujah", Associated Press, November 13 2004.,2933,138376,00.html

36.  Miles Schuman, "Falluja's Health Damage", The Nation, December 13 2004.

37.  "Emergency Working Group - Falluja Crisis Update Note", United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, November 11 2004.

38.  "Human rights chief calls for probe of abuses in Fallujah", United Nations Radio, November 16 2004.

39.  Dahr Jamail, "Fallujah refugees tell of life and death in the kill zone", The New Standard, December 3 2004.

40.  William Kay, "The Second Battle of Fallujah", The Republic, November 25 2004.

41.  Dahr Jamail, "Life goes on in Fallujah's rubble", Inter Press Service, November 23 2005; "Death toll in Fallujah rising, doctors say", IRIN, January 4 2005.

42.  Oxford Research Group, Learning from Fallujah, 2005. ; "Fallujah situation improving slowly", IRIN, March 21st 2006.


44.  Oxford Research International, National Survey of Iraq, February 2004, page 20.

45.  "Iraq Ministry to enlist ex-army officers into commando units - official", Al-Sharqiyah, April 4 2005.

46.  Mariam Fam, "Iraqis say security forces use torture," Associated Press, July 6 2005.

47.  Patrick J. McDonnell and Solomon Moore, "Iraq to purge corrupt officers", Los Angeles Times, May 1 2005.

48.  "Baghdad 'execution victims' found", BBC News, May 6 2005.

49.  Dirk Adriaensens, "Foxes in the hen-house, Iraqi puppet government submits candidacy for the UNHRC and other tales", Brussels Tribunal, May 6 2006.

50.  Yitzhak Nakash, The Shi'is of Iraq, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 4-5.

51.  Nakash, ibid., 16 & 31.

52.  Nakash, ibid., 33-36.

53.  Phebe Marr, The Modern History of Iraq, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1985), 135.

54.  Nakash, ibid., 28-33 & 207.

55.  Nakash, ibid., 13 & 33-36.

56.  Charles Tripp, "Iraq: the imperial precedent," Le Monde Diplomatique, January 2003.

57.  Nakash, ibid., 96-97, 125-134 & 233.

58.  Hala Jaber, "Iraqi police linked to ethnic cleansing," The Sunday Times, October 9 2005.

59.  Nakash, ibid., 97-98, 237, 254 & 261.

60.  Marr, ibid., 123-125.

61.  Helen Chapin Metz, "Sunni-Shia relations in Iraq", Iraq: a country study, (Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1990).

62.  Raed Jarrar, "Iraq's "hidden" conflict", Foreign Policy in Focus, March 18 2008.


64.  Sabrina Tavernise, "Violence leaves young Iraqis doubting clerics", New York Times, March 4 2008.

65.  Samir Haddad, "Sunnis complain of "state terror" in Iraq", Islam Online, May 17 2005.

66.  Patrick Cockburn, "Iraq's top Shia cleric warns of 'genocidal war'", The Independent, July 19 2005.

67.  "Arab League concerned over targeting Iraqi Sunnis", Islam Online, May 19 2005.

68.  Tom Lasseter and Yasser Salihee, "Sunni men in Baghdad targeted by attackers in police uniforms", Knight Ridder Newspapers, June 27 2005.

69.  Peter Beaumont, "Revealed: grim world of new Iraqi torture camps", The Observer, July 3 2005.

70.; Herman Grech, "US aware of Iraq torture", The Times of Malta, February 20 2006; Ed Johnson, "Ex-official: Iraq abuses growing worse", Associated Press, March 2 2006; "Exclusive: former UN human rights chief in Iraq says US violating Geneva Conventions, jailing innocent detainees", Democracy Now, February 28 2006.

71.  Hala Jaber, "Iraqi police linked to ethnic cleansing," The Sunday Times, October 9 2005.

72.  Solomon Moore, "Killings linked to Shiite militias in Iraqi police force", Los Angeles Times, November 29 2005; Max Fuller, "Ghosts of Jadiriyah: a survivor's testimony", Brussels Tribunal, November 14 2006.

73.  Edward Wong and John F. Burns, "Iraqi rift grows after discovery of prison", New York Times, November 17 2005.

74.  Colonel James K. Greer, "Operation Knockout: COIN in Iraq", Military Review, November-December 2005; Specialist Ben Brody, "Iraqi police conduct Baghdad raid without U.S. oversight", American Forces Press Service, October 1 2005.;  William H. McMichael, "Navy awarding Bronze Stars to Marines", Navy Times, January 25 2007.; Laurence Lessard, "Interview with Maj Scott Schumacher", Operational Leadership Experiences Project, (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute, November 17 2006). CISOROOT=/p4013coll13&CISOPTR=642&filename=643.pdf#search=%22we%22; Gareth Porter, "US military still runs with dreaded Wolf Brigade", Inter Press Service, January 2nd 2006.

75.  Sarah Baxter, "US plots new liberation of Baghdad", Sunday Times, April 16 2006.

76.  Dahr Jamail, "Baghdad slipping into civil war", Inter Press Service, April 20 2006;

77.  Sabrina Tavernise, "Alarmed by raids, neighbors stand guard in Iraq", New York Times, May 10 2006.

78.; Edward Wong and Paul von Zielbauer, "Iraq stumbling in bid to purge its rogue police", New York Times, September 17 2006.



81.  "Measuring stability and security in Iraq", U.S. Department of Defense, August 29 2006.




85.  Michael Gordon, "Civilians to take U.S. lead as military leaves Iraq," New York Times, August 18 2010.


87.  Dirk Adriaensens, "Occupation is the highest form of dictatorship, which Washington calls democracy", Brussels Tribunal, April 16 2011.

88.  Gilbert Burnham et al., "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey," The Lancet, October 11 2006.

89.  Albert Camus, Camus at Combat, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 1 - 3.

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq (Nimble Books, 2010)  This paper was presented to the Peace History Society conference in Miami a few hours after President Obama announced that the U.S. would honor its commitment to withdraw its occupation forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.



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