Clearing the fog of war in Iraq

The expression “fog of war” evokes both the confusion of the battlefield and the ways in which uncertainty can be used as propaganda tool to obscure the real nature of warfare.

One of the striking things about the statistics that Wikileaks have released is that the leading cause of death which accounts for half the 66,081 civilian deaths recorded between January 2004 and December 2009 is murder. This was not about ordinary people being the random victims of violence — caught in crossfire, or the targets of trigger happy soldiers, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time when roadside or car bombs caused carnage. These were extrajudicial executions, in the tens of thousands, occurring under the watch of American and coalition forces.

Patrick Cockburn writes:

From late in 2004 Interior Ministry troops trained by the Americans were taking part in savage raids on Sunni or suspected Baathist districts. People prominent in Saddam Hussein’s regime were arrested and disappeared for few days until their tortured bodies were dumped beside the roads.

Iraqi leaders whispered that the Americans were involved in the training of what were in fact death squads in official guise. It was said that US actions were modelled on counter-insurgency methods pioneered in El Salvador by US-trained Salvadoran government units.

It was no secret that torture of prisoners had become the norm in Iraqi government prisons as it established its own security services from 2004. Men who were clearly the victims of torture were often put on television where they would confess to murder, torture and rape. But after a time it was noticed that many of those whom they claimed to have killed were still alive.

The Sunni community at this time were terrified of mass sweeps by the US forces, sometimes accompanied by Iraqi government units, in which all young men of military age were arrested. Tribal elders would often rush to the American to demand that the prisoners not be handed over to the Iraqi army or police who were likely to torture or murder them. The power drill was a favourite measure of torture. It is clear that the US military knew all about this.

The Guardian reports:

Britain’s role in the alleged torture and unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians may be the subject of legal action following the publication of nearly 400,000 leaked military documents by the website WikiLeaks.

British lawyers said the classified US army field reports embroiled British as well as American forces in an alleged culture of abuse and extrajudicial killings in Iraq. Solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, appearing alongside WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference in London today, said some of the deaths documented in the reports may have involved British forces and could now go through the UK courts.

The Iraq logs, Shiner said, indicated that UK as well as US commanders were likely to have ignored evidence of torture by the Iraqi authorities, contrary to international law. He said: “Some of these deaths will be in circumstances where the UK have a very clear legal responsibility. This may be because the Iraqis died while under the effective control of UK forces – under arrest, in vehicles, helicopters or detention facilities.”

Al Jazeera reports:

In October 2006, an Iraqi army unit reportedly robbed a number of people living in Sunni neighbourhoods in western Baghdad. The unit was arrested on October 11 – and told its captors that it was operating under the authority of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

1/5/6 IA patrol stops 2X IA M1114s and 1X pick up truck occupied by 17X LNs in IA uniforms and equipment. 5/6 orders detenftion of all 17 individuals and vehicles due to reports over several days of 2X IA M1114s conducting robberies in the Mansour and Washash areas of 5/6 IA battle space.

[…] Detainees claim to be Iraqi special forces working for the prime minister’s office.

The unit seems to be a sort of “detention squad” operating under al-Maliki’s authority. An official from the defence ministry showed up several hours later and urged the US to release the men, saying their mission was “directed by PM Maliki”.

Politics, unsurprisingly, factors little into these leaked documents: They are ground-level assessments from army units, far removed from the government.

Still, some of the reports paint the Iraqi prime minister in an unflattering light, which may be why al-Maliki and his allies have described them as a smear campaign. “These are all just fakes from the Internet and Photoshop,” Hassan al-Sneid, a member of al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, said on Saturday.

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5 thoughts on “Clearing the fog of war in Iraq

  1. Fillmore Hagan

    Horrible as these crimes they are not nearly as bad as those committed in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the 1960s and 1970s. There the civilian death toll was measured in millions as the US dropped more bombs than in all of World War 2. Far from being an exception the infamous My Lai massacre was merely an unusually large version of the kind of thing that went on all the time.

    How quickly we forget!

  2. b


    i wonder why so far no one has made a connection between the Iraqi special forces regularly using power-drills for torture (drilled into knees) and this item: CIA report: Detainees threatened with guns, power drills

    A Central Intelligence Agency officer who allegedly threatened a detainee with a gun during an interrogation in 2002 has been officially “reprimanded and reassigned” for using tactics outside the agency’s legal guidelines.

    Some of the most graphic methods described in the report were used on Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly planned the 2000 USS Cole bombing. According to the report, CIA officials fired a gun in an adjacent interrogation room to make Mr. al-Nashiri think another prisoner had been executed. In addition to waterboarding him, interrogators also turned a power drill on and off next to his head, reports Newsweek, which first broke the story. A federal law prohibits authorities from threatening prisoners with “imminent death.”

    The CIA used power-drill in an “interrogation” in 2002. Years later the torturers in Iraq use power-drills. Coincidence by chance? My bet is No. Trained by the CIA seems much more likely.

  3. Paul Woodward

    I think the fact that the CIA would use the threat of power drills wasn’t because this was their torture tool of choice but because there is a long history of such torture methods of having been used in Iraq and elsewhere. The CIA could reasonably assume that it’s prisoners would fear treatment no less brutal. Reports such as the one below from USA Today might have served the Bush administration well in justifying the war, but we shouldn’t infer that their propaganda value means they were not factual.

    An Iraqi soldier, who according to the [Military Intelligence Directorate] facility’s records witnessed the beatings, said interrogators regularly used pliers to remove men’s teeth, electric prods to shock men’s genitals and drills to cut holes in their ankles.

    In one instance, the soldier recalled, he witnessed a Kuwaiti soldier, who had been captured during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, being forced to sit on a broken Pepsi bottle. The man was removed from the bottle only after it filled up with his blood, the soldier said. He said the man later died.

    “I have seen interrogators break the heads of men with baseball bats, pour salt into wounds and rape wives in front of their husbands,” said former Iraqi soldier Ali Iyad Kareen, 41.

    He then revealed dozens of Polaroid pictures of beaten and dead Iraqis from the directorate’s files.

    The beatings continued until the last days of the old government. (4/13/03)

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