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WHAT WE THINK
Washington maneuvers to control Iraq's new government
Death-squad democracy

May 6, 2005 | Page 3

SECTARIAN DIVISIONS and death squads will be the cornerstones of Iraq's new government, which is finally preparing to take office three months after elections held at U.S. gunpoint.

For now, Washington is making do with a political lineup in Iraq that it dominates, but doesn't completely trust. Iyad Allawi, who headed the Washington-backed interim government, has been denied a cabinet post. Meanwhile, most of the Sunni political parties that could be persuaded to participate in the January election are pulling out of the new government. Plus, Shiite parties are calling for a resumption of "de-Baathification"--the removal of members of Saddam Hussein's former party from the government.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently traveled to Baghdad to demand that the man slated to be prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, retain Baathists in the secret police and interior ministry. That's because reliance on the largely Baathist apparatus has become a central part of the U.S. strategy.

But now the Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), based in Iran prior to the U.S. invasion, is set to take control of the interior ministry--a post the U.S. had intended for Allawi. This will greatly enhance the power of the SCIRI, which already controls a powerful militia, the Badr Brigades--and impede Washington's efforts to reassemble Hussein's Sunni security apparatus in order to crush the insurgency.

As a recent New York Times magazine article by Peter Maass showed, commanders of this apparatus are running killer paramilitary units modeled on those used by U.S. advisers in the 1980s to defeat leftist guerrillas in El Salvador.

This "Salvador option," as a retired U.S. general called it, is in full swing. A recent Human Rights Watch reported that "unlawful arrest, long-term incommunicado detention, torture and other ill treatment of detainees (including children) by Iraqi authorities have become routine and commonplace."

The U.S. State Department admitted that Iraqi authorities have been accused of "arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions--particularly in pretrial detention facilities--and arbitrary arrest and detention." In other words, after torturing and killing prisoners directly at Abu Ghraib prison, the U.S. military is outsourcing these tasks to Iraqis--often to the henchmen of the old regime. As the Los Angeles Times observed, "The plan for Iraqi commandos' wider deployment is indicative of how the raging guerrilla conflict here is increasingly a war pitting Iraqis against Iraqis, leading to a decline in U.S. casualty rates as the number of Iraqi dead soars."

But U.S. plans for a death-squad democracy in Iraq may well be undone by the very sectarian divisions that Washington has fostered by imposing a constitution dividing power between Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. Thus, Jaafari announced that he would take control of the defense ministry himself after his Shiite allies rejected the leading Sunni candidate for the job.

Control of the oil ministry--supposedly on an interim basis--will go to none other than Ahmad Chalabi, the former U.S. favorite who stoked up the war drive with false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. For the U.S., the notoriously corrupt Chalabi is preferable to the supporters of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who had sought control of the oil ministry.

Moreover, if the Shiite-dominated government tries to deviate from the U.S. agenda, Washington's main ally, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, is in a position to block them.

Even if the Iraqi government holds together, there's no way it will complete its main task--writing a new constitution--by the August 15 deadline imposed by the U.S. The U.S. wants a constitution to cement the sectarian and ethnic divisions used by Washington to steer Iraqi politics.

In any case, the new Iraqi government won't be able to stop the insurgency--which the Pentagon has admitted is at the same level as a year ago--if not higher. "Western Iraq is totally out of U.S., control," wrote Asia Times' Pepe Escobar. "Mosul is infiltrated by the Iraqi resistance. Ramadi, the resistance capital of the Sunni triangle, is controlled by--who else--the resistance."

Far from helping Iraq make a transition to democracy, the Washington-dominated elections and new government haven't altered the hellish reality of life under U.S. occupation--or diminished the urgency of the demand to bring the troops home now.

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