So when Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is pushed out of office over a disagreement regarding the next national poll, the US tries its best to not intervene à la the old “crush political unrest in Central America” mode. And it sounds so damn good when Obama breaks with the old tradition of treating South America like its own personal banana plantation. After decades of US-backed dictators from Guatemala to Chile, after counterinsurgency (Contras in Nicaragua, paramilitary troops in Colombia, for instance) and the years of blood and violence these armed factions caused among the civilian population, can we finally believe in a better, less bully-ish United States?
I think not. Cause at the same time, Iraq seems to be at the same point where South America was a few decades ago. And the US are getting ready to make the same horrible mistakes that South America still hasn’t fully recovered from in the 20th century.
The Nation’s Shane Bauer reports about Iraq’s US-trained Special Forces, the ISOF (Iraq Special Operations Forces) which roam the land free of any checks and balances. They are under the exclusive order of the Iraqi Prime Minister and his sponsors, the US.
Basically, in the last years, the US Special Forces have recruited and trained several thousands of troops, equipped with the latest in military gadgetry, and given a very long leash to do the dirty work not even the US troops would carry out, especially when they’re not there anymore. Because, quite handily, as the US army is pulling out by the end of next year, these trigger-happy killers will stay back and continue the “counter-terrorist” work, i.e. carry out random arrests, shootings, torture and abductions. – Hey, somebody’s got to keep that place tidy, right? Trouble is, they have nobody to answer to, except their king sun-like commander. In other words, the US done made themselves another army of lawless and highly-equipped henchmen who are already much like a giant personal guard for their commander or whoever buys his way into the command-line. The political opposition and even Iraqi police and regular army dare not even testify against the cruel and arbitrary violence the ISOF apply to anyone standing in their way. It doesn’t take a political analyst to guess who’s going to be the main target of these shadow-armies.
Our lesson from South America’s paramilitary troops is that once they’re settled in with a powerful sponsor, it’s nearly impossible to send them back to a civilian life. After all, who is going to tell them so? And who’s going to investigate into the massacres, robberies etc. they are free to commit?
The Iraq Special Operations Forces (ISOF) is probably the largest special forces outfit ever built by the United States, and it is free of many of the controls that most governments employ to rein in such lethal forces. The project started in the deserts of Jordan just after the Americans took Baghdad in April 2003. There, the US Army’s Special Forces, or Green Berets, trained mostly 18-year-old Iraqis with no prior military experience. The resulting brigade was a Green Beret’s dream come true: a deadly, elite, covert unit, fully fitted with American equipment, that would operate for years under US command and be unaccountable to Iraqi ministries and the normal political process.
According to Congressional records, the ISOF has grown into nine battalions, which extend to four regional “commando bases” across Iraq. By December, each will be complete with its own “intelligence infusion cell,” which will operate independently of Iraq’s other intelligence networks. The ISOF is at least 4,564 operatives strong, making it approximately the size of the US Army’s own Special Forces in Iraq. Congressional records indicate that there are plans to double the ISOF over the next “several years.” […]
When the US Special Forces began the slow transfer of the ISOF to Iraqi control in April 2007, they didn’t put it under the command of the Defense Ministry or the Interior Ministry, bodies that normally control similar special forces the world over. Instead, the Americans pressured the Iraqi government to create a new minister-level office called the Counter-Terrorism Bureau. Established by a directive from Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, the CTB answers directly to him and commands the ISOF independently of the police and army. According to Maliki’s directive, the Iraqi Parliament has no influence over the ISOF and knows little about its mission. US Special Forces operatives like Carstens have largely overseen the bureau. Carstens says this independent chain of command “might be the perfect structure” for counterterrorism worldwide.
Although the force is officially controlled by the Iraqi government, popular perception in Baghdad is that the ISOF–the dirty brigade–is a covert, all-Iraqi branch of the US military. That reading isn’t far from the truth. The US Special Forces are still closely involved with every level of the ISOF, from planning and carrying out missions to deciding tactics and creating policy.