Death Squads And Diplomacy
By Robert Dreyfuss
10/05/05 "TomPaine.com" -- -- A flurry of Arab
diplomacy over the last few days is unfolding in a rear-guard
effort to prevent the crisis in Iraq from exploding into what
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal warned last month could be a
regional civil war involving not only Iraq, but all of its
The main, and well-deserved, target of Saud’s ire was the
increasingly authoritarian and brutal rule of the main Iraqi
Shiite parties, especially the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose Badr Brigade militia are
terrorizing Iraq’s secular, urban Shiite population and carrying
out death-squad attacks against Sunnis. The attacks against the
Sunnis are aimed not only at the Iraqi armed resistance but at
secular, nationalist Sunni leaders and activists.
Last week, I reported on the fear of Shiite militias and death
squads as reported by Aiham Al Sammarae, an Iraqi oppositionist
and former minister under the interim government in 2004 who is
trying to broker a deal with the Iraqi resistance. Since then,
other reports have surfaced concerning the extensive violence
carried out by paramilitary forces tied to SCIRI and to Al Dawa,
SCIRI’s partner in the Shiite religious bloc in Iraq. By now it
is clear that if Tony Soprano lived in Iraq, he’d be a member of
the Shiite militia. Consider the following report from CBS News:
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan reports there is a secret,
ruthless cleansing of the country's towns and cities.
Bodies—blindfolded, bound and executed—just appear, like the
rotting corpses of 36 Sunni men that turned up in a dry riverbed
south of Baghdad.
CBS News traced 16 of those men to a single street in a
Baghdad suburb, where family members showed CBS News how the
killers forced their way into their homes in the middle of the
night and dragged away their sons and fathers.
"My uncles were tortured, they even poured acid on
them," a young boy told CBS News.
Clutching photographs of the murdered men, the women and
children left behind came together to grieve.
One woman said as her husband was marched away she sent her
son after him with his slippers, but his abductor sent the child
back with a chilling message: No need for slippers—he will
come back dead.
They were targeted for one reason alone: all were Sunnis.
Or this, from the Chicago Tribune :
In the dead of night, bands of armed men in Iraqi commando
uniforms stormed Baghdad's Hurriyah neighborhood in late August,
breaking down doors with sledgehammers and grenades.
If the family inside was Shiite, the gunmen moved on to
another house, witnesses said. If the family was Sunni, the
gunmen tore through the building, demolishing furniture and
manhandling those inside. More than 70 young Sunni Arab men were
Countless atrocities, too, have been perpetrated by Sunni gangs
and by terrorists associated with Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. But the
killings by the Shiite militias are far more chilling because they
have an entirely different quality: They are carried out by gunmen
tied to the U.S.-supported regime in Baghdad. They don’t draw
criticism from U.S. officials, and most American media reports
continue to portray the Shiites as victims and the Sunnis as
Still, it is the ferocity of the Shiite fanaticism governing
Iraq today, and the ruling circle’s ever-closer ties to Iran,
that prompted Prince Saud to warn of a regional civil war sparked
by the Shiites. He brought that message to Washington last week,
talking to senators and to the Washington press corps. He then
flew back to the Middle East to attend a meeting of Arab foreign
ministers, including Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hossein Zebari.
We’ll come to the Arab League meeting shortly, but first some
After Saud’s criticism of Iraq’s Shiite crazies, one of
them—Iraqi interior minister Bayan Jabor—lashed out at Saudi
Arabia. “This Iraq,” said Jabor, who as interior minister is
directly responsible for the Shiite hit squads, “is the cradle
of civilization that taught humanity reading and writing, and some
Bedouin riding a camel wants to teach us!” He went on to
lambaste Saudi Arabia and threaten to provoke an uprising of
Shiites who predominate in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern
Province. “There are more than four million Shiites in the
kingdom who are considered second-class citizens,” he sniffed.
Later, at the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting, two
important things happened. First, the Iraqi foreign minister,
Zebari, a Kurd, abjectly apologized for Jabor’s calling Saud a
Bedouin. More important, the League decided to launch an Iraqi
peace initiative. The secretary-general of the Arab League is
going to Baghdad on a mission to find common ground among Iraq’s
warring factions, including the Iraqi Sunni-led resistance. And
the League is putting together a plan to convene a conference led
by Iraq’s Arab neighbors along with all Iraqi factions, in an
effort to prevent civil war and stabilize the country. It’s a
very important step, one that probably does not have much more
than token support from the Bush administration, which is stuck on
its stay-the-course fantasy of a victory strategy. But important
people in Washington believe that Jordan and Saudi Arabia, both
Sunni kingdoms, are the best mediators between the United States
and the Iraqi opposition.
In that context, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad
managed to find his way down to Saudi Arabia this weekend to talk
to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince about Iraq. Iraq—and its Shiite
fundamentalist ruling clique—may be too far gone to be salvaged.
Perhaps civil war is inevitable. But if the United States would
get out of Iraq, give the Arab League and the UN a chance to
manage things there, and take part in Arab-led talks with the
Sunnis, catastrophe might be averted. It’s not likely, but at
this point we need straws to grasp at.
Robert Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria,
Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He
is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing
writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for
The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to
Rolling Stone. His book, Devil's Game: How the United
States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, will be published
by Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books in the fall.
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