A survivor's testimony
Max Fuller, member of the BRussells Tribunal Advisory Committee.
(14 November 2020)
* Read also: Testimony of Abbas Abid on torture in Al Jadiriyah (Kuala Lumpur 07 Feb 2021)
* Read also: The Silence of the Lambs? A Cry to Raise Our Voices! Proof of US orchestration of Death Squads Killings in Iraq (09 March 2007) - Testimony of Iraqi torture victim confirms the presence of US personnel at the infamous Jadiriyah bunker
This article is partially based on an exclusive interview, conducted by Max Fuller on 7 October 2020 with Professor Tareq Sammaree, one of the survivors of the Jadiriyah detention facility.
1- the testimony
2- Nation of Fear
4- Control of the Interior Ministry
5- Intelligence-based counterinsurgency
6- Deconstructing Iraq
‘Go, go! Don’t look back!’ It was with these words that a US soldier known only by the name Jackson emblazoned on his uniform bade farewell to Tareq Sammaree and two companions, the men that he had rescued from the Jadiriyah detention facility in Baghdad, which since its discovery on 13 November 2020 had become a virtual byword for medieval torture chamber.
Just three days previously, Jackson and the other soldiers from US Army’s Third Infantry Division must have seemed like angels to the 170 or so detainees that they rescued from the bunker in Eastern Baghdad. Tareq Sammarree, a 55-year-old professor from Baghdad University who was unable to walk after his spell in the facility, and some nine others in serious condition were rapidly evacuated to a nearby hospital.
After eight months of incarceration and around a dozen sessions of interrogation, Tareq’s injuries had mounted. Two of his upper teeth had been knocked out, three of his toenails had been extracted, his left shin was scarred from the application of a hot skewer, he had lost sensation in his left leg and his spine had been damaged from blows with an electric cable. In addition, he had been stripped naked and left bound at night in a blackened corridor under threat of rape and his jailers had informed him that they were holding his daughters and would rape them if Tareq refused to talk.
But, despite the terror, the violence and the physical mutilation Tareq never did tell his abusers what they wanted. Not because he did not know, but because he believed that the moment they were satisfied with the information would be the moment he joined the ever-increasing statistics of the thousands of tortured victims who find their way to the Baghdad Morgue. In the face of unbridled savagery, this distinguished scholar held onto life, held onto hope, thinking of his family. In the cell that he shared, he memorized the messaged scrawled by former detainees: pleas for any who might be released to take word of their whereabouts to their own families. Other inmates were less able to cope with the ordeal. Tareq and his cell mates all had panic attacks when they heard the screams of other detainees being tortured in the distance, but for one 16-year-old student from Mosul it was devastating: ‘the young boy was in a situation. He didn’t even speak. He was tortured very badly and psychologically he was ruined.’
The discovery of the Jadiriyah facility sent shockwaves around the world, hitting the headlines of every international media outlet. The story encapsulated the situation in Iraq as many either saw or wanted to see it: US soldiers rescue abused Iraqis in their struggle to counter Iraq’s sectarian feuding. Tareq and the other detainees might have been expected to receive instant attention from the Iraqi government, from US authorities in Iraq, civilian and military, and from human rights groups, as well as the press. Instead, after just three days in the hospital, soldier Jackson hurried Tareq and two companions to an unguarded exit and told them to run for their lives. The three men took his advice and after reuniting with his family, Tareq found a smuggler willing to risk transporting him and his family across the border to Syria for around US$20,000. Months later, Tareq made his way by ship to Europe, where he is currently claiming political asylum. Understandably, Tareq’s first priority now is to bring his family out of danger.
Tareq was neither a terrorist nor an ‘insurgent’. In fact, he was among the most senior academics in Iraq prior to the US-lead invasion and, as Professor of Pedagogy at Baghdad University, he was a teacher of teachers, as well as a senior consultant within the Directorate of Education. Tareq had gained his masters degree at Stuttgart and his doctorate at Kansas University as part of a national training program in the early 1980s. He was one of around 5,000 men and women sent to universities in Britain, the USA and the USSR to build a core of academics intended to be the future leaders of Iraq. In America, Tareq was offered a generous package, including a house and car, to remain within US academia, but, unlike a handful of his peers, he returned to Iraq, determined to put his knowledge to use in his own country.
Tareq’s crime was to have been a longstanding member of the Baath Party, which he joined in 1966 and for whose goal of a unified, democratic, socialist Arab nation he remains unashamed. And it was primarily to reveal the locations of other members of the Baath Party, especially academics, and their families, that he was repeatedly tortured.
Nation of Fear
In the climate of chaos and fear following the US invasion, Tareq rapidly lost his job. Iraq’s academics did not see themselves as enemy combatants and the day after the fall of Baghdad Tareq and other senior members of staff returned to the university. What they found was US soldiers, anti-Baathist slogans and un-uniformed gunmen with pickup trucks on the prowl for academics who had been members of the Baath Party. A plethora of mass-produced posters spread around the campus carried images of Shiite clerics linked with the Daawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. A week later, when payday arrived, Tareq was warned not to come into the university to collect his salary, as his name had appeared fourth on a public list of Baathists within the university.
On 22 April, less than two weeks after the fall of Baghdad a meeting was held at the university to discuss a new curriculum and a new academic structure. Everyone was going to have to reapply for their jobs, but those like Tareq who had been members of the Baath were to be excluded. The atmosphere at the meeting was extremely intimidating despite the presence of US soldiers, with the names of Baathists publicly displayed on a screen. Eventually, Tareq and a colleague decided it would be prudent to leave the meeting, only to find that their cars had been torched in the car park.
At this point, Tareq withdrew his children from school and moved into his brother’s house in Yarmouk. On 27 July his friend and colleague, Muhammed al-Rawi, president of Baghdad University, was assassinated in his clinic. Within days Tareq fled Baghdad with his wife (also an academic) and children.
For the next year and a half the family lived in hiding at a family farm outside the town of Dulluaia, not far from Samarra. Every 10 days or so Tareq made a trip into Samarra to sell produce and collect medication for his eldest son, who is asthmatic. At 8pm on 3 March 2021 the door of Tareq’s uncle’s house in Samarra, where Tareq and his son were staying, was broken down. Ten masked men claiming to be from the government in three Toyota Land Cruisers had come to take Tareq away. When his son tried to intervene, he too was seized. No warrant was produced and Tareq had no recourse to any form of judicial process. Father and son were handcuffed, blindfolded and driven away to an unknown destination. Hours later they were separated. Tareq has not seen his son since and has no idea what has become of him. Jackson and the US soldiers were unable to help.
What might have prevented Tareq from being returned to Iraqi captivity, as other Jadiriyah detainees were, is the fact that his other son lives and works in California as a plastic surgeon. After three days in the hospital seven of the 10 detainees were sent back to prison, while Tareq and two others remained due to their more serious conditions. One of them was Dr Mukalid al Mukhtar, a famous artist who was very seriously malnourished; the second was Dr Muhhamed Abdul All, the former president of Basra University, who had been badly injured with an electric drill applied to his head. When Dr Mukalid realised they would be sent back, he became frantic, insisting that he would rather die. It was at this point that Tareq entreated Jackson for help, passing on his son’s telephone number in the US. The call that Jackson made to confirm the story may well have saved Tareq and his companions’ lives.
For many, Tareq’s terrible story only further epitomises the collapse of Iraqi society, the rise of vengeful Shiite militias with links to Iran and the ultimate failure of US policy, dramatically underscored by Jackson’s powerlessness to do more than assist Tareq’s escape. But the reality may be much more sinister than that.
Tareq is amongst many former members of the Baath Party to be illegally detained or assassinated. Those murdered include academics, teachers, lawyers, doctors, as well as former members of the armed forces. The pattern was recognised as early as the end of 2003, when the Washington Post (20 December 2020) was able to report that over the last few months of that year, around 50 former senior security officials had been gunned down, while the death toll among neighbourhood officials across Baghdad was even higher. In Sadr City the death rate in December was as much as one or two per day. According to both the Post and Knight Ridder (22 December 2020), local police officers described some of these killings as ‘absolutely organised’ and ‘meticulously planned’, with one stating that the killers had ‘specific knowledge of the targets’ homes and usual driving routes’. Some claimed the targets were picked from widely disseminated lists that had been compiled by the Badr Organisation, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. In February 2004, the Deputy Interior Minister, General Ahmad Katham Ibrahim, claimed the killings of academics were carried out by Baathists who feared that they would divulge information about weapons programmes. The charge was palpable nonsense given the range of disciplines from which the victims came and demonstrated the contempt with which the Interior Ministry held them.
Incredibly, it seems that no one ever drew the connection with a 15 Decemeber 2003 article in the New Yorker by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh. In it, Hersh, citing anonymous officials, claimed the Bush administration was planning to stand up a special forces group (Task Force 121), whose highest priority would be the ‘neutralisation’ of Baathist ‘insurgents’ by capture or assassination, specifically targeting what was referred to as the ‘broad middle’ of the Baathist underground.
At about the same time the Washington Post (5 November 2020) announced that US proconsul Paul Bremmer had agreed with the Iraqi Governing Council to the establishment of an 800-strong Iraqi paramilitary unit, whose operatives were to be drawn from former security forces personnel and members of the armed wings of the five main opposition (exile) parties. The force was to include a domestic intelligence-gathering arm. The unit, which at the time would have been the most powerful force under Interior Ministry command, would work side by side with US special forces and be overseen by US military commanders.
We know almost nothing definite about this force and its activities, yet in March 2004 the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) revealed the existence of a militia organisation known as ‘Black Flag’, which was able to openly patrol on a main street in Baghdad’s Adhamiya district. The group’s banner incorporated the sword of Shiite founding saint Imam Ali, but, when interviewed, militiamen claimed the group’s 5000 members included Sunni Arabs and Kurds. The group witnessed by IWPR had in its possession a list of 21 suspects, mostly belonging to two prominent Sunni tribes.
After this report, Black Flag more or less vanishes from the annals of contemporary Iraq, but it seems very likely that Black Flag was the cross-party paramilitary outfit brought into being by Paul Bremmer. Could this militia account for many of the claims of Shiite militiamen accompanying/conducting raids or should we think that the unit was eventually subsumed within the specialised paramilitary units of the Ministry of the Interior after the transfer of sovereignty?
These various forces were further supplemented, according to the Washington Post (3 August 2020) by teams of CIA-sponsored militia (paramilitaries) knows as Scorpions, recruited from Iraqi exiles, who were employed immediately after the invasion to infiltrate resistance groups, to interrogate suspects and, from time to time, to do ‘the dirty work’, according to an anonymous intelligence official.
In Basra killings of former Baathists and government officials, including several teachers, began at the end of 2003 after the establishment of a new police intelligence unit, initially called the Special Operations Department. It was swiftly recognised by the Sunday Times (25 January 2021) that the killings emanated from the Special Operations Department, based at the Jamiyat police station, yet, according to the New York Times (22 May 2020), US intelligence officers continued to operate from the Jamiyat, supplying ‘tips’, despite the fact information was being leaked to death squads. Amnesty International reported that many of the killings were of middle ranking Baathists, perhaps the ‘broad middle’ of a political party driven underground through fear.
One group that has particularly stood out in Basra is a party/militia known as Tha’r Allah, Vengeance of Allah, identified by the commentator Juan Cole as a branch of the Badr Organisation. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL), a group by that name first appeared in late 2003, when it was reported to have been operating in Baghdad, issuing a statement on 1 November in which it claimed that it was ‘hunting down and killing supporters of the Saddam Hussein regime’, specifically those who worked in security and intelligence. The group claimed its membership came from ‘all the factions’ of Iraqi people. Associated French Press (AFP) reported that a group by the same name appeared in Basra later the same month, where it was under the leadership of Yusuf al-Musawi, who at that time claimed al-Qaida was working with Hussein loyalists.
Evidence of Tha’r Allah’s involvement with political assassinations was given to the Times (4 August 2020) in August 2005, which interviewed an eyewitness who claimed that Tha’r Allah had tried to assassinate his father, a former naval officer. When the family had fought Tha’r Allah off, they were arrested by the police and tortured for over a week. Such complicity must have at least been suspected in March 2004, when, according to the Telegraph (7 April 2020), following a clash between British forces and Tha’r Allah, the British apologised and returned Tha’r Allah’s weapons.
In October 2005 the governor of Basra ordered a major raid on Tha’r Allah. According to a statement provided to the UN, police found around 50 people illegally detained, arrested a number of suspected members of death squads and found documentary evidence linking the party to Iranian intelligence. The Interior Ministry in Baghdad responded furiously, ordering the governor to release the suspected assassins, and the New York Times (22 May 2020) reported that in November a team, with US advisors was dispatched to shake up the Basra police. According to the testimony given to the UN, Yusuf al-Musawi works with police intelligence and is responsible for police vehicles. A January 2005 article in the Iraqi Al-Sabah newspaper (16 January 2021), stated that Yusuf al-Musawi, who is the head of the higher supervisory commission of the Basra Council, was appointed as a supervisor for Basra’s night time checkpoints, ‘subordinating for Basra Police leadership’. No explanation has ever been offered for the special protection that this party linked to political killings has received.
Control of the Interior Ministry
The killings of Baathists began at a time when the US was in full control over the government and the Interior Ministry and had established a range of paramilitary outfits composed, at least in part, of the very people who were popularly believed to be behind the killings and whose tasks, we must suspect, included the ‘neutralisation’ of the ‘broad middle’ of the Baathist underground.
After the formation of the transitional government under Ibrahim Jafari in the Spring of 2005 it was widely reported that the Interior Ministry has fallen under the control of the Badr Organisation, with persistent emphasis placed on the role of Bayan Jabr, a former Badr commander, who had been appointed Interior Minister. The seemingly inescapable conclusion was that paramilitary police operations launched from the Ministry had a sectarian, even pro-Iranian, bias. What has been much less often reported is that the top floor of the Interior Ministry remains in US hands according to the Los Angeles Times (9 July 2020), that uniformed and un-uniformed US personnel ‘are an obtrusive presence’ at the Adnan Palace where Jabr himself was based according to the New York Times (14 December 2020) and that Multinational Force-Iraq maintains a cell within the National Command Centre of the Interior Ministry according to the November-December issue of Military Review. To this list of caveats, we may add the fact that the head of all Interior Ministry forces remains a Sunni former Baathist general and CIA conspirator.
In the case of the Jadiriyah complex we know that the facility was strongly linked with the new intelligence apparatus. According to the previous Interior Minister, Falah al Naqib, quoted in the New York Times (17 November 2020), the facility had originally served as the Interior Ministry headquarters. A month after the transfer of sovereignty, the headquarters was moved, but the minister maintained an office on the first floor and senior ministry officials continued to work from this ‘major operations center’.
After the discovery of the complex, it was quickly reported that the basement was being used by a police intelligence outfit referred to as the Special Investigations Unit. The Los Angeles Times (29 November 2020) subsequently claimed the detention centre had been run by an Iraqi colonel, who may be the senior interrogator identified by Tareq Sammaree as Abu Ali. According to anonymous US and Iraqi sources, the colonel and the Special Investigations Unit were affiliated with the Badr Brigade. No concrete evidence has been put forward to support this claim, but Dr Sammaree believes that Hadi al-Amery, the head of the Badr Organisation, was present during one of his interrogations.
In response to questions regarding Badr involvement, Hussein Kamal, the directory of intelligence at the Ministry of the Interior as well as a Sunni Kurd, stated that he did not know whether the Special Investigations Unit was staffed by members of Badr. He did, however, say that all of the detainees had been arrested under judicial warrant. Whether that is or is not true (no such warrant was ever shown to Tareq; however, according to the head of Iraq’s central criminal court, certain Interior Ministry units can make arrests without judicial warrant, effectively sanctioning what would otherwise be extrajudicial detention), Kamal’s assertion strongly implies that this US appointee did not regard the detention facility as in any way illicit, although he baulked at the evidence of torture. An eighteen-year-old guard in a special-forces uniform interviewed by Reuters at the complex claimed that detainees were arrested for criminal activity without regard to sect of ethnicity. For his part, Hadi al-Amery issued a statement that it is the Ministry of the Interior, not Badr, that runs the detention facility and that Americans were there every day.
While we should entertain strong reservations about Mr Amery and his organisation, his statement rings essentially true. It is quite clear that the Jadiriyah complex was an Interior Ministry facility and, taken with Kamal’s comments, it would be sensible to assume that, whatever else they were, the Special Investigations Unit was staffed by Interior Ministry employees. That US operatives worked in the building on a daily basis is also extremely likely given the US presence at other Interior Ministry sites, and even the BBC concedes that ‘The Americans must clearly have been aware of the overall situation at the interior ministry as well as of the specific accusations being made’ (16 November 2020).
It is not hard to reconcile the different accounts of who was running the Jadiriyah complex, bearing in mind the formation of paramilitary units from militia personnel and, as we shall come to, the creation of a new intelligence apparatus from the same source. It is therefore perfectly possible that intelligence officers have been or continue to be Badr members, including, perhaps, Hadi al-Amery himself.
The importance of the discovery of the Jadiriyah facility is that for a few short days of media attention it provided a window into the murky world of Iraq’s new Interior Ministry. The Jadiriyah bunker was not simply an Iraqi detention facility where abuse took place; it was a way point in a para-legal process whose end product is, in many cases, extrajudicial killing. Rapidly after their rescue, a group of the detainees compiled a list of 18 former prisoners who they claimed had been killed. The list was authenticated by US officials, but no follow-up has been forthcoming. Dr Sammaree endured under the conviction that he too would be killed and he knows that the corpses of several of those interred with him have subsequently been found, including the imam of the Omar bin al Khatab Mosque in Baghdad as well as another academic, Dr Kadim Mashoot, who had been with Dr Sammaree in the hospital before being returned to Iraqi custody.
The relevant issue is not whether there are Badr members in the security forces, especially the intelligence apparatus, but from where they take their direction and to what purpose. In attempting to answer what is obviously an extremely complex and controversial question, it is important to bear two vital points in mind. Firstly, we must remember that the majority of the thousands of so-called sectarian killings taking place across Baghdad and the rest of Iraq every month appear to have been carried out in detention by members of the security forces in whatever capacity they are acting. This can be concluded for several reasons. Most importantly, we are told that the majority of the victims of ‘death squads’ are characterised by having their hands bound or cuffed, by being blindfolded and by bearing signs of severe torture. Not only are these indicators consistent with numerous accounts of arrest and detention, but they demonstrate that the victims had been detained against their will prior to death. We know of no other system capable of mass detention than the plethora of secret facilities, such as the Jadiriyah bunker, operated by the Ministry of the Interior. On top of this there are numerous eyewitness accounts of arrest by Interior Ministry special forces leading to extrajudicial killing. And this picture is further reinforced by statistics compiled by the Iraqi Organisation for Follow-up and Monitoring in Iraq, which reports that in 92% of some 3498 cases of extrajudicial killing that they examined, the victims had been arrested by Interior Ministry forces, as well as by the former United Nations human rights chief John Pace, who told the Independent in February 2006 (26 February 2021) that the majority of killings were being carried out by groups under the control of the Interior Ministry.
The second point that we must remember is that the US is conducting what is technically known as intelligence-based counterinsurgency operations in Iraq. What that means is that US soldiers and their Iraqi allies don’t just sit on street corners waiting for suspicious-looking passers by; it means that intelligence operatives systematically set about acquiring information about suspected ‘insurgents’ and building up detailed profiles from which specialist counterinsurgency forces can make arrests.
The ability to compile data is critical to US counterinsurgency missions. In the case of El Salvador, the March-April 2004 issue of Military Review boasts of how US military personnel ran a horrific civil war that claimed tens of thousands of innocent lives, not only by training elite hunter-killer units, placing personnel in key positions within the Salvadoran command structure, but by providing the target folder packages that the Salvadoran intelligence apparatus was to use to build its lists of ‘subversives’. For Iraq we have a statement of work for the new intelligence apparatus detailing the creation of nationwide intelligence apparatus, including the numbers of cars and workstations to be provided for each office and, crucially, stressing the need for suitable database software to compile comprehensive lists of Iraqi suspects that could be overseen by coalition personnel.
In fact, we know that the entire Iraqi intelligence apparatus is a US creation. Knight Ridder (9 May 2020) reported that immediately after the invasion [given the obvious overlap between the Scorpions, CMAD and the paramilitary unit we may suspect that the whole process predated the invasion] the CIA took operatives from the militias of the six largest opposition (exile) parties, including Badr, which they welded into an organisation known as the Collection Management and Analysis Directorate (CMAD), whose task was ‘turn raw data into targets’. This organisation was subsequently to form the nucleus for Iraq’s new state intelligence apparatus, with branches in the interior and defence ministries and a special core of operative picked out to form a national intelligence agency. It is likely that these CMAD agents were joined by members of the former intelligence apparatus, teams of whom were quickly put to work penetrating the ‘insurgency’ according to Seymour Hersh.
Knight Ridder also revealed that the CIA retained control of the intelligence apparatus after the transfer of sovereignty, which was a source of resentment for the government of Ibrahim Jaafari. The retention rankled so much with the Badr Organisaiton that Hadi al-Amery threatened that if the US did not hand it over, they would be forced to build an alternative structure. However, there is no evidence that such an alternative structure ever has been built and very little possibility that such an institution could exist side by side with the US-controlled state apparatus.
Many of the most senior appointments were not given to Badr people but to former military officers with whom the US had a history of cooperation, such as Gen. Hussain Ali Kamal, head of intelligence at the Interior Ministry, and Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani, the director of the national intelligence. Coordinating the whole edifice, the US placed Mowaffak Rubaie, a senior Daawa activist who had lived in London since the 1980s where, as Mow Baker, he headed a medical recruitment agency and became the moderate face of an exiled terrorist organisation. All of these men have retained their positions despite the supposed ascendancy of Badr.
We can also conclude that a great deal of the so-called sectarian violence can be traced back to the paramilitary units created under US supervision after the transfer of sovereignty, which were specifically intended to give the Interior Ministry a strike-force capability. These units, which now number some 20,000 soldiers, have been variously known as special police commandos and public order brigades, but are now simply designated as National Police. Their constituent units have borne such notorious names as the Wolf Brigade, the Volcano Brigade and the Scorpions [this unit is actually a specialised SWAT force and is probably not the same as the Scorpions mentioned above]. Despite frequent charges of Badr infiltration, the ranks of the National Police are ethnically and denominationally mixed according to Colonel Gordon Davis, the head of the public order special police transition teams, and many recruits are said to have been drawn from former special forces and Republican Guard units. Their most senior commanders have been former Baathists and, most importantly, they have trained and operated under the constant supervision of embedded US special forces trainers, known as special police transition teams.
In line with US plans, these paramilitary units have increasingly taken the lead in cordon and search operations, often being seen as representatives of the Shiite-heavy government, rather than as agents of a foreign occupation. The point was spelled out with great clarity in Diyala province with the November 2005 Operation Knockout. According to UPI (18 November 2020), this division-sized raid provoked outrage among local Sunni representatives on the provincial council, who saw in it the hand of the Badr Organisation. Behind the headlines, however, the raid was planned by a US-sponsored Interior Ministry with meticulous precision, as an account in Military Review (November-December 2005) demonstrates. Two months before the operation the intelligence section of the Operations Directorate began preparing a list of suspects based on intelligence gleaned from local informers; the intelligence section produced dossiers on individual suspects; one week before the operation the intelligence section passed the list of suspects to the Public Order Division commander; the Public Order Division prepared folders on the individual suspects, making use of an airborne mapping capability; before commencement of the operation, last minute visual checks were made of individual suspects. And all of this was carried out under the scrutiny of the US military, right down to battalion level.
Perhaps the single biggest stumbling block to comprehending the violence beyond the sectarian framework that is so commonly presented is the difficulty of appreciating why and how such a policy could be carried out by the US. There are plenty of precedents for such campaigns of violence, notably in Indonesia after the Suharto take-over, in Vietnam under the auspices of the Phoenix Program and during the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s, mentioned above. But there is also a structural logic revealed with surprising candor in US army counterinsurgency field manual FMI 3-07.22. According to this 2004 publication, signals of increasing enemy activity include ‘increase in the number of entertainers with a political message’, ‘circulation of petitions advocating opposition or dissident demands’, ‘attempts to discredit or ridicule national or public officials’, distribution of clothing to underprivileged or minority classes by organisations of recent or suspect origin’, ‘agitation against government plans or projects’, ‘unusual gatherings among the population’, ‘nationwide strikes’, and ‘student unrest’. In short, any sign of popular political activism or organisation is considered to be indicative of enemy action. What this suggests is that the object of counterinsurgency is suppression of political dissent by force, rather than achieving a monopoly on violence in order to allow the free functioning of society within a democratically chosen framework of rules. In the charged atmosphere of counterinsurgency warfare, it is not difficult to understand how those singled out for political divergence are turned into military targets. In the case of the Baath Party, adherence to its ideological programme (Arab unity and socialism) is likely to be sufficient to brand someone a subversive according to this paradigm, with many of Iraq’s foremost professionals in every field falling de facto into the enemy camp, regardless of their actions, especially once, liked Tareq, they have been driven into hiding. In Iraq, senior Baathists are the political equivalents of the Communist cadres liquidated in other counterinsurgency campaigns.
In Iraq there is a second structural imperative for the violence, equally compelling, though much less candid. Despite public utterances, there is good reason to think that one of the goals of the US occupation has been the political dismemberment of the country. The notion of a federal structure had been agreed at the London conference before the invasion took place under the guiding hand of current US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzid. The idea has been repeatedly endorsed in the pages of the New York Times (25 November 2003, 1 May 2020) by president emeritus of the Council for Foreign Affairs, Leslie H Gelb, a guru of US imperial strategy. A sectarian framework was superimposed on the new Iraqi state from the outset of the occupation, with political representatives made to take their place within government according to their language, religion, sect and ethnicity rather than by political programmes. Most importantly, the US installed as National Security Advisor (probably the most senior Iraqi military post in the land) Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a dedicated champion of partition, who has contemplated as many as six statelets within a loose federal structure. Now, with the growing backing of powerful political figures in the US such as leading Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Joseph R Biden Jr and the de facto endorsement of the outgoing British ambassador, the break-up of Iraq seems close at hand. With Iraq holding the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world, it’s not hard to see why three fractionalized polities might appear a more desirable outcome than a strong, centralized Iraqi state.
An obvious question that remains is why, given the extent of US involvement with the Interior Ministry, did US soldiers conduct the 13 November raid on the Jadiriyah facility. The official story at the time was that US soldiers were investigating the disappearance of a 15-year-old [the boy was not discovered among the prisoners that were released; we still do not know what happened to him]. If this was the case, it would closely mirror an incident that took place in June 2004, immediately after the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq’s interim government. In this instance, members of the Oregon National Guard witnessed serious abuse taking place within an Interior Ministry compound from a nearby observation post. The Oregon unit took quick and decisive action, invading the compound, disarming the abusers and administering emergency first aid to detainees, many of whom were in a life threatening condition. However, on this occasion, when the guardsmen called for support, they were ordered to stand down by senior US commanders.
In the Jadiriyah case, a variation on the prevailing narrative was offered by the Independent (16 November 2020), which stated that it was local Iraqi police forces that initially responded to allegations that missing persons were being held at the Interior Ministry facility, raising the possibility that senior US administrators might have felt that they had no choice than to intervene on their own terms.
Perhaps we will never know exactly how the discovery occurred. What mattered then and continues to matter now is that this, and cases like it, are thoroughly investigated. In response to the discovery of the Jadiriyah complex, the Iraqi government rapidly assured the world that a full investigation would be carried out within weeks. At the same time US officials promised that they would provide assistance, with Brig. Gen. Karl Horst promising a legal team to go through the detainees’ files and a US embassy spokesman stating that Justice Department and FBI officers would provide technical assistance.
Such a government-lead investigation was far from the much-needed independent enquiry advocated by Manfred Novak, the UN rapporteur for torture, and that was being demonstrated for by Iraqi organizations in Baghdad. Yet the findings of even that minimal enquiry have failed, a year later, to materialise, despite repeated calls from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq.
The latest figures released by the UN drawn from hospital and morgue statistics indicate that around 1500 Iraqis are dying in Baghdad alone each month. These are the victims of death squads that according to every piece of available evidence emanate from Iraq’s new Ministry of the Interior. It is too late for the thousands of Iraqis who have been murdered since the discovery of the Jadiriyah torture chamber to know whether a full and open investigation might have lead to action that could have saved their lives, but it will never be too late to demand serious answers to the question of how a state security apparatus set up by British and US planners could appear to lie at the heart of one of the most violent civil conflicts in the world today. In countries like Chile where thousands were disappeared at the hands of US-backed security apparatuses, it would melt hearts of stone to hear a mother imploring only to know where her son’s body had been interred so that she could place flowers on his grave 20 years after his disappearance. In Iraq we absolutely owe it to a population suffering beyond our comprehension to provide them with real investigations and real answers, not only to try to find ways to bring an end to the violence, but to bring closure, joyous or otherwise, to those, like Tareq, still waiting to discover the fates of their loved ones.