CIA ramps up role in Iraq — here come the death squads?

When it comes to fighting “al Qaeda affiliates”, the U.S. approach under Obama seems no less lawless than it was under Bush. And with a history of complicity in the operation of death squads in Iraq (even during a period when hundreds of international journalists were reporting from there), it’s hard not to wonder how much latitude the CIA will give itself now that the world pays so little attention to what happens inside Iraq.

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Central Intelligence Agency is ramping up support to elite Iraqi antiterrorism units to better fight al Qaeda affiliates, amid alarm in Washington about spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria, according to U.S. officials.

The stepped-up mission expands a covert U.S. presence on the edges of the two-year-old Syrian conflict, at a time of American concerns about the growing power of extremists in the Syrian rebellion.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist network’s affiliate in the country, has close ties to Syria-based Jabhat al Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, an opposition militant group that has attacked government installations and controls territory in northern Syria. The State Department placed al Nusra on its list of foreign terror organizations in December, calling the group an alias for al Qaeda in Iraq.

In a series of secret decisions from 2011 to late 2012, the White House directed the CIA to provide support to Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service, or CTS, a force that reports directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, officials said.

The CIA has since ramped up its work with the CTS — taking control of a mission long run by the U.S. military, according to administration and defense officials. For years, U.S. special-operations forces worked with CTS against al Qaeda in Iraq. But the military’s role has dwindled since U.S. troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2011.

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