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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, December 10, 2006

The mystery men




Who are these new Iraqi special forces units whose origins no one seems to know, and whose existence some deny? With a chain of command that seems to be outside of ordinary ones?

Little is known publicly about Iraqi special forces units, a relatively new force that has participated in operations against suspected Shiite death squad members and high-level Iraqi insurgents.

Iraqi Defense Ministry officials have given conflicting information about the force. Some say that it is not answerable to the Iraqi army command and is attached to Iraq's intelligence service. Others deny its existence.

The earliest known raid by the force occurred in March, when its members attacked a Shiite mosque that was allegedly being used to hide kidnapping victims. Iraqi special forces soldiers killed 16 Shiite gunmen, detained 17 others and recovered an Iraqi hostage, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said.

The U.S. military announced Thursday that Iraqi special forces soldiers captured six suspected insurgents in a raid this week in Yousifiya, a town south of Baghdad.

Is this a unit created by US special forces? Part of this arrangement? In any case, multiple signs it is targeting in a very directed way key figures in Sadr's Mahdi army and the Sunni insurgency.

More whiffs of the Salvadorization of Iraq:

There are far more Americans in Iraq today — some 140,000 troops in all — than there were in El Salvador, but U.S. soldiers are increasingly moving to a Salvador-style advisory role. In the process, they are backing up local forces that, like the military in El Salvador, do not shy away from violence. It is no coincidence that this new strategy is most visible in a paramilitary unit that has Steele as its main adviser; having been a central participant in the Salvador conflict, Steele knows how to organize a counterinsurgency campaign that is led by local forces. He is not the only American in Iraq with such experience: the senior U.S. adviser in the Ministry of Interior, which has operational control over the commandos, is Steve Casteel, a former top official in the Drug Enforcement Administration who spent much of his professional life immersed in the drug wars of Latin America. Casteel worked alongside local forces in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, where he was involved in the hunt for Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellín cocaine cartel.

Steele and Casteel were adamant in discussions with me that they oppose human rights abuses. They stressed that torture and death-squad activity are counterproductive. Yet excesses of that sort were endemic in Latin America and in virtually every modern counterinsurgency. American abuses at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan show that first-world armies are not immune to the seductions of torture.

Until last year, the United States military tried to defeat the insurgency on its own, with Iraqi forces playing only a token role. The effort did not succeed. ...

Last summer, with the security situation deteriorating, some Iraqi and American officials began to argue that the time had passed for a ‘‘clean hands’’ policy that rejected most of the experienced people who had fought for Saddam Hussein. The first official to take action was Falah al-Naqib, interior minister under the interim government of Ayad Allawi. In August, Naqib formed his own regiment, the Special Police Commandos, drawn from veterans of Hussein’s special forces and the Republican Guard. As its leader, he chose General Adnan, not only because Adnan had a useful collection of colleagues from Iraq’s military and security networks, but also because Adnan is Naqib’s uncle.

Naqib did not ask for permission or training or even equipment from the United States military; he formed and armed the commandos because the U.S. military would not. ‘‘One of the biggest mistakes made by the coalition forces is that they started from zero,’’ he told me in his office in the Green Zone in Baghdad. ‘‘Our army and police are 80 years old. They have lots of experience. They know more about the country and the people, and about the way the insurgents are fighting, than any foreign forces.’’

Initially, Petraeus wasn’t even told of the commandos; Iraqis and American civilians at the Ministry of Interior had lost faith in the U.S. training program. The American who was most involved in the commandos’ creation was Casteel, Naqib’s senior American adviser. Casteel, who previously worked for Paul Bremer in the Coalition Provisional Authority, realized that the de-Baathification policy had to be altered and that Naqib was the person to do it. ‘‘He was not looking for top Baathists or people with blood on their hands,’’ Casteel said. ‘‘But a tremendous amount of people who worked in the government or army weren’t either of those. So why start from scratch when we can start in the middle? That’s where the commando idea was formed.’’

After the commandos set up their headquarters at a bombed-out army base at the edge of the Green Zone, Petraeus went for a visit. He was pleasantly surprised, he told me, to see a force that was relatively disciplined and well motivated. He knew the commandos were officers and soldiers who had served Saddam Hussein, he knew many of them were Sunni and he certainly knew they were not under American control. But he also sensed that they could fight ... The hard men of the past would help shape the country’s future.

Petraeus decided that the commandos would receive whatever arms, ammunition and supplies they required. He also assigned Steele to work with them. In addition to his experience in El Salvador, Steele had been in charge of retraining Panama’s security forces following the ousting of Gen. Manuel Noriega. When I asked him to describe Adnan’s leadership qualities, Steele drew on the vocabulary he learned in Latin America. Adnan, he said approvingly, was a caudillo — a military strongman.


This is nothing new, but it didn't start in El Salvador


The Iraqi military's "special forces" that report to the U.S.
By Swopa
Dec 9 2006 - 2:53pm

Service is our business here at Needlenose. So when Laura Rozen asks about the mysterious Iraqi unit referred to in this Los Angeles Times story...
Little is known publicly about Iraqi special forces units, a relatively new force that has participated in operations against suspected Shiite death squad members and high-level Iraqi insurgents.

Iraqi Defense Ministry officials have given conflicting information about the force. Some say that it is not answerable to the Iraqi army command and is attached to Iraq's intelligence service. Others deny its existence.

The earliest known raid by the force occurred in March, when its members attacked a Shiite mosque that was allegedly being used to hide kidnapping victims. Iraqi special forces soldiers killed 16 Shiite gunmen, detained 17 others and recovered an Iraqi hostage, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said.

... I'm happy to note that I wrote about that raid back in March, and to share my subsequent analysis/speculation:

The "Iraqi counterterrorism force" . . . is almost certainly the heir to a battalion created at the end of 2003 from the militias -- yes, irony is useless here -- of various parties allied with the U.S. at the time. It basically exists to be the trustworthy "Iraqi face" to be put on U.S. military initiatives such as the assaults on Fallujah and the intended attack on Imam Ali shrine in Najaf when al-Sadr occupied it in 2004. I'd bet a few bucks that at this point, it consists primarily of Iyad Allawi loyalists and Kurdish peshmerga.

It seems like very little leaks out about this unit, but perhaps we'll start learning more if it's used more often as part of our military's almost-last-ditch strategy to salvage the occupation. For those who haven't been following the story closely, I'll remind you that the phrase "is attached to Iraq's intelligence service" in the L.A. Times story above means that the unit reports to the U.S., which still controls that department rather than surrendering it to the Team Shiite government after the latter was elected.


Nope, this is a mini-version of the Phoenix Program from Vietnam. Using a combination of indigenous teams and Special Forces, the US targeted Viet Cong leaders and assassinated them. What happened was basically this led to what we now call death squad activity. They would kill individuals, families, whoever was targeted.

Another top secret program this emulates is MACV-SOG. SOG, the Studies and Observations Group had a mix of US Special Forces and indiginous personnel who would hunt down the North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Mihn trail.

The problem was that both programs were infiltrated by North Vietnamese spies. The North Vietnamese had spies at every level of the South Vietnamese government, and SOG missions would be betrayed and Phoenix Program operations manipulated to work against the government.

These tactics will fail because there is no government and the resistance and Mahdi Army can strike back at their families.

posted by Steve @ 2:16:00 PM

2:16:00 PM

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