FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Baghdad’s Death Squads, Official and Otherwise

by PATRICK COCKBURN

Amman, Jordan.

A barrage of rockets and mortar rounds exploded in the mainly Shia Karada neighbourhood in east Baghdad, killing 31 people and wounding 153. The attack yesterday came soon after President George Bush agreed to rush more US troops to Baghdad to try to bring sectarian violence under control.

The shells were followed by a car bomb that destroyed a bank and an apartment and set shops on fire in Karada, which is a tight-knit trading area hitherto little affected by violence. Many leading Shia politicians and President Jalal Talabani live in or near the district.

The use of US troops shows the desperation of Nouri al-Maliki’s government to try to regain control of the capital but it is likely to be seen by many Shia – and particularly the main Shia militia, the Mehdi Army – as a move in support of the Sunnis. In some Sunni districts such as al-Amariya and al-Khadra in west Baghdad, people are so frightened they may welcome the American forces.

If the US army does confront the Mehdi Army, it could soon find itself at war with the Shia community in Sadr City, the great Shia bastion in Baghdad with a population of two million, just as the Israelis are at war with Hizbollah in Lebanon.

It is unlikely, however, that some 10,000 US troops will succeed in restoring civil order, something that 50,000 Iraqi forces in the city have failed to do. Sunni now shoot at police and police commando detachments, regarding them as officially sanctioned “death squads”.

In many cases, they will only allow them to enter their districts if accompanied by US soldiers. In the historic Sunni al-Adhamiyah district in east Baghdad demonstrators demanded a week ago that a largely Shia army unit be transferred out of the area and replaced by a Sunni battalion.

The sectarian warfare between the two communities is conducted in a different manner by the two sides with the Shia, often policemen, detaining Sunnis and killing them elsewhere. Sectarian killing by the Sunni more often involves suicide bombs or car bombs in crowded markets and mosques. Police discovered a total of 19 bodies, many of them tortured, in Baghdad overnight.

The US forces have already started arresting Mehdi army leaders and fighting Shia militia detachments. But these are often seen by the Shia as essential self-defence forces necessary to safeguard them from pogroms by the Sunni.

There is also a suspicion among the Shia that the US has a long term intention to prevent them, although they are 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, from ruling the country.

The US has fought the Mehdi Army twice in 2004 and said it was trying to kill or capture its leader Muqtada al-Sadr. But Mr Sadr is far more powerful than he was two years ago. He is also popular with his followers, who hold 30 seats in the 275-member parliament and control five ministries including health and transport.

The US says it wants to reduce the power of the militias. “If you don’t do this, you end up with a situation like you have in Lebanon, where the militia becomes a state within a state,” said the top US commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid. “It makes the state impotent to be able to deal with security challenges.”

But in practice the US is only going after selected militias, such as the Mehdi Army, which is hostile to the US.

 

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail