Although 2007 will have seen the largest number of American military deaths in Iraq and the passing of the one million mark in Iraqi civilians killed, there has been much triumphant harrumphing of late about a slight drop in the horrific death count in Iraq — proof, we are told, for the umpteenth time, that the war of aggression has finally "turned the corner" (i.e., the conquered people have finally been beaten into submission).
To the extent that there has been any lessening of the ongoing slaughter for a short period, much of that can be put down to a factor little discussed in the American media-political bubble (at least not in terms of stark reality): the fact that the White House and St. Gen. David Petraeus have simply legitimized what used to be recorded as terrorist acitivity by paying the former killers of Americans to kill and repress other Iraqis. Thus, in some areas of Baghdad now controlled by American-paid, American-armed Sunni extremist militias, executions, mass killings, horrific torture, kidnapping and rampant extortion still go on — but these are no longer counted as "insurgent violence." These horrors are now regarded as legitimate police actions by "concerned citizens" groups — almost all of them former close allies of the most savage sectarian bands (now loosely called "al Qaeda" by everyone, regardless of any actual relationship, however tenuous, to the gang of one-time CIA ally Osama bin Laden).
In other words, Bush and St. David are now giving American taxpayer money — and copious amounts of arms, equipment and flash vehicles — to those responsible for some of the most sickening assaults on innocent life since Bush destroyed Iraqi society and plunged it into sectarian warfare, which the Administration has encouraged and exacerbated at every step.
This is one way of keeping the American death count down: you just turn over various walled enclaves in Baghdad to a band of thugs in your pay, lard them with guns and money, then get the hell out of Dodge, letting the thugs do what they will. It is absolutely vital for the Washington warmongers to keep the American death count low. As long as "only" two or three Americans are being killed every day or so, they can keep a lid on the rising but still very manageable popular discontent with the war back home. The increased use of airpower — blunderbuss assaults on civilian areas with bombs and attack helicopters — also helps toward this goal. And, as noted, it also helps lower the official numbers on "terrorist" violence, following the age-old tradition of U.S. foreign policy: if somebody is killing, raping and torturing with our money, in our name, why then, it can't be terrorism. It's just a grassroots initiative to restore law and order, and bring freedom to benighted peoples.
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The American policy also borrows directly from the methods adopted by Vladimir Putin in Chechnya. After directing a savage and unrelenting assault on the Chechen people — complete with widespread torture, collective punishment, kidnappings and murder — Putin then bought off some of the most brutal figures in the opposition and installed them in power. Given this example, it would not be surprising if the "strongman" who eventually emerges to take over Iraq — in the name of some sort of "national emergency council" ruling by decree and supported, implicitly or openly, by the United States — comes not from the old circle of Western-backed exiles nor from the Iranian-backed parties that Bush has empowered in the present government, but from one of the street-level gangs now being built up by the Americans.
In Saturday's Guardian, the paper's remarkably courageous man in Baghdad, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, gives us a vivid portrait of one of these American-paid gangs in action. It is the tale of Abu Abed, a violent, neurotic, vainglorious killer of Americans (and former intelligence officer for Saddam Hussein) who has been crowned by none other than St. David himself to rule as undisputed king over the walled Baghdad ghetto of Ameriya:
Abu Abed, a member of the insurgent Islamic Army, has recently become the commander of the US-sponsored "Ameriya Knights". He is one of the new breed of Sunni warlords who are being paid by the US to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The Americans call their new allies Concerned Citizens...A former intelligence officer and a pious Sunni, Hajji Abu Abed has the aura of a mafia don. And for Abu Abed, like a don, connections are everything. His office is decorated with pictures of him hugging US officers, including the senior commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus...On Abu Abed's desk stands a glass box containing a black suede cavalry hat and a letter proclaiming him an honorary US cavalryman.Abu Abed began hugging St. David — and taking the Saint's payoffs — after falling out with "al Qaeda" in a dispute over loot. The Qaedas were demanding a 25 percent cut of all swag to fund their self-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Iraq; Abu Abed balked at the demand, and decided to eliminate his rivals. But he was outgunned his fellow sectarians, so he turned to the Americans.
The Americans pay him $400 (£200) a month for each fighter he provides, he said, and he had 600 registered. His men are awed by his courage, his piety and his neurotic rages...
It is a strategy now being adopted by several gangs, insurgent groups and militias: a deeply cynical deal to get guns and money not only for control of their immediate turf, but also for the big fight ahead against the Shiites. As Abdul-Ahad writes:
A senior Sunni sheikh, whose tribe is joining the new alliance with the Americans against al-Qaida, told me in Beirut that it was a simple equation for him. "It's just a way to get arms, and to be a legalised security force to be able to stand against Shia militias and to prevent the Iraqi army and police from entering their areas," he said.And how is the huggable Abu Abed bringing the blessing of freedom to his fiefdom? Like so:
"The Americans lost hope with an Iraqi government that is both sectarian and dominated by militias, so they are paying for locals to fight al-Qaida. It will create a series of warlords.
"It's like someone who brought cats to fight rats, found himself with too many cats and brought dogs to fight the cats. Now they need elephants."
When we arrived at the house where [an] alleged al-Qaida commander was hiding, Bakr [Abu Abed's head of intelligence] was already in action. He was dragging a plump man into a car, grabbing his neck with one hand and his BKC machine gun with the other. The horrified man begged them not to take him. "By Allah, I didn't say Qaida is better than you, you are our brothers, just let me go!" A gunman kicked the man and pushed him into a car."Al Qaeda" is not Abu Abed's only enemy, of course. In addition to constantly threatening to renege on his deal with his new best friends — the Americans he used to kill — if they don't properly acknowledge his authority, Abu Abed is also violently attacking forces aligned with the Iraqi government:
The suspect's brother, still in his pyjamas, pleaded, and women in nightgowns stood in the street wailing and begging the gunmen to release him. The gunmen pointed their guns at the people and pushed them back. A young fighter carrying an old British sub-machine gun fired a burst into the air.
Abu Abed walked into the scuffle. The detained man was not the [alleged al Qaeda] target. Someone had overheard him saying Abu Abed's men were "worse than al-Qaida" after Bakr's men raided the house. Furious at the insult, Abu Abed aimed his gun at the brother. "Al-Qaida is better than us, huh? Did you forget when the bodies were piled in the streets?"
Some neighbours intervened, and the man was released. His brother grabbed him by the arm and pushed him inside. Abu Abed, shaking his head and waving his gun, walked back to his car, murmuring "Al-Qaida, better than us..."
He stopped in mid-stride and turned to charge with his men back into the house. They pushed the gate open and ran inside firing their weapons in the air. In the dark kitchen, they grabbed the man again, pushed him to the floor and kicked him. The women were screaming and crying. One of them pulled away her headscarf and wailed, holding on to the man's ripped shirt as Abu Abed and the gunmen dragged him out, kicking and slapping him. Other fighters fired their Kalashnikovs in the air. The man was shoved into a car, as was his brother.
Abu Abed, screaming and pointing his gun, charged at the crowd. "Qaida is better than me? I will show you!" He held his gun high and quoted al-Hajjaj, a 7th-century ruler of Iraq, in a hoarse voice: "Oh, people of Iraq, I had come to you with two swords, one is for mercy which I have left back in the desert, and this one" - he pointed his gun at the crowd -"is the sword of oppression, which I kept in my hand."
The convoy drove off, sirens blaring, fighters hanging out of the car windows.
That night, Abu Abed decided to attack another group of Ameriya Knights under his general command. He suspected their commander, Abu Omar, was allied with the vice-president's Islamic party, which has been trying to control the Sunni area.This is what your tax dollars are paying for: shotguns rammed in a child's mouth, while a maniacal thug threatens to behead him. This is one of the linchpins of the Bush-Petraeus "surge." This is what they are talking about when they speak of the surge's "success." This is the vision of Iraq's future.
"I have to show them there is one commander. If the Americans don't like it, I will withdraw my men," he told me. "Let's see if they can fight al-Qaida alone." By sunset, his men were gathered in front of the house again. He distributed extra guns and he carried an extra shotgun with his machine gun.
All the way to Abu Omar's HQ he was humming an Islamic verse in a beautiful voice. "Oh prophet, how beautiful your light is, oh prophet of God."
Abu Omar's gunmen, thinking Abu Abed was there for an inspection, took away the coils of razor wire and opened the gates. Then Abu Abed's Knights charged for the third time that day, this time accompanied by gunfire. Bullets whizzed in their confused way and red tracers flashed against the dark blue sky.
Abu Omar's men were rounded up. Some were put in pick-up trucks, others were squeezed in car boots. By the light of headlamps, Abu Abed's men looted weapons, ammunition boxes and radios.
One terrified child was brought for questioning. "Where are Abu Omar's sniper rifles?" Abu Abed asked him.
"I don't know," replied the boy.
"Look, this head of yours, I will cut it off and put it on your chest if you don't tell where the guns are by tomorrow." He tried to put his shotgun in the boy's mouth but his men restrained him.
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