The Politics of Iraqi Death Squads

Posted by Cutler on May 16, 2006

It is too early to predict the outcome of back room negotiations over the composition of a new Iraqi government. However, there have been scattered reports, most recently by Agence France-Presse, of an agreement to allow the Shiite Alliance to retain control of the Interior Ministry.

If true, this would tend to undermine the idea that US concern over SCIRI Badr Brigade “death squads” at the Interior Ministry was a central factor in Khalilzad’s refusal to back the first Shiite Alliance government proposed by Ibrahim Jaafari. Has Khalilzad simply retreated? Or was the whole idea–that the US feared uncontrolled Shiite “death squads”–something of a stretch from the start.

Perhaps the controversial outgoing Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr Solagh, knows too much about US participation in the formation of the “death squads” to be easily marginalized at this point. Most recently, he has joined the chorus of complaints about death squads, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for the death squads. Instead, he blows the whistle on the US:

Solagh said most of the human rights abuses attributed to the Iraqi police and interior ministry could be laid at the feet of the various security bodies belonging to other ministries. Referring to the country’s interior and defence ministries, Solagh said: “These forces are out of control. In total there are 200 000 not controlled by the MOI and MOD. “No one controls them, not even the prime minister.” Solagh said that, in addition to the 250 000 armed forces and police members, 200 000 others are guarding ministries, pipelines and infrastructure, or working as private security in the country. In the case of the Facility Protection Service (FPS), which guards the various ministries and consists of almost 150 000 men, the equipment is similar to that of the police, he said. Solagh said: “They have the same cars, the same weapons, the same uniforms as the police, just instead of ‘IP’ it is written ‘FPS’.”

The Interior Minister made similar charges in a BBC interview in April 2006.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has admitted that death squads and other unauthorized armed groups are carrying out sectarian murders in his country. The minister alleged that non-governmental security agencies like the Facility Protection Service (FPS) – which was set up under the US governorship in order to protect public buildings – were behind many of the killings. Jabr told the BBC that the 150,000-strong FPS was “out of order, not under our control“.

The US seems to have removed its objections to Shiite control of the ministry some time after he linked the US to the death squads. There has been precious little discussion of the Facility Protection Service. Maybe Jabr is blowing smoke. Maybe not.

In any event, the key to the entire “death squads” issue is that the US at one point had a hand in all this.  Prior attempts to sideline Jabr and the Badr Brigade reflect US fears of Shiite death squads much more than concern over Shiite death squads.  It is a political thing, not a humanitarian thing.

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