Emma Sky talks about The Unraveling : High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq


Four Blackwater guards sentenced in Iraq shootings of 31 unarmed civilians

The Washington Post: A federal judge Monday sentenced a former Blackwater Worldwide security guard to life in prison and three others to 30-year terms for killing 14 unarmed civilians in a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007, an incident that fomented deep resentments about the accountability of American security forces during one of the bloodiest periods of the Iraq war.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District rejected a claim of innocence by Nicholas A. Slatten, 31, of Sparta, Tenn., who received the life sentence after being convicted of murder in October for firing what prosecutors said were the first shots in the civilian massacre.

The three others — Paul A. Slough, 35, of Keller, Tex.; Evan S. Liberty, 32, of Rochester, N.H.; and Dustin L. Heard, 33, of Maryville, Tenn. — were sentenced to 30 years plus one day after being convicted of multiple counts of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.


How the U.S. incubated ISIS in Camp Bucca

The Washington Post reports: In March 2009, in a wind-swept sliver of Iraq, a sense of uncertainty befell the southern town of Garma, home to one of the Iraq war’s most notorious prisons. The sprawling Camp Bucca detention center, which had detained some of the war’s most radical extremists along the Kuwait border, had just freed hundreds of inmates. Families rejoiced, anxiously awaiting their sons, brothers and fathers who had been lost to Bucca for years. But a local official fretted.

“These men weren’t planting flowers in a garden,” police chief Saad Abbas Mahmoud told The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid, estimating that 90 percent of the freed prisoners would soon resume fighting. “They weren’t strolling down the street. This problem is both big and dangerous. And regrettably, the Iraqi government and the authorities don’t know how big the problem has become.”

Mahmoud’s assessment of Camp Bucca, which funneled 100,000 detainees through its barracks and closed months later, would prove prescient. The camp now represents an opening chapter in the history of the Islamic State — many of its leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were incarcerated and probably met there. According to former prison commanders, analysts and soldiers, Camp Bucca provided a unique setting for both prisoner radicalization and inmate collaboration — and was formative in the development of today’s most potent jihadist force. [Continue reading…]

The Soufan Group: It is likely that many of the soon-to-be leaders of what is now the Islamic State (IS) were extremists before they walked through the gates of Camp Bucca, the U.S. military prison in southern Iraq, from 2003 to 2009. But it is certain that they all were when they walked out months or years later.

In Camp Bucca, the reshaping of the future IS took place among the mixing of violent ideological extremists and former Ba’athist military officers who were also no strangers to violence. Along with other circumstances (such as the Syrian civil war and the sectarian rule of Iraq’s then-Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki), it is this Bucca bond that forms the nucleus of a cancerous cell that has taken over so much of Iraq and Syria.

Apart from IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, even a partial list of former Bucca detainees who would play major roles in reshaping IS is impressive: Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, al-Baghdadi’s number two; Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, senior military leader; Haji Bakr, instrumental in helping al-Baghdadi into power; Abu ‘Abdul Rahman al-Bilawi, responsible for the operational planning that seized Mosul, Iraq; Abu Qasim, in charge of foreign fighters and suicide bombers; Abu Lu’ay, senior military official; Abu Shema, in charge of logistics; Abu Suja, in charge of programs for families of martyrs; and on and on. Some were officers in Saddam Hussein’s military (usually air force or army), the others were teachers, imams, or bureaucrats. But all were dedicated, motivated, and organized members of a smoldering anti-Shi’a group when they left Bucca. [Continue reading…]


U.S. jury convicts ex-Blackwater guards in 2007 Baghdad killings

Reuters reports: In a sweeping victory for the U.S. government, a federal jury on Wednesday found four former Blackwater guards guilty on nearly every count they faced in connection with the 2007 killing of 14 unarmed Iraqis at a Baghdad traffic circle.

Jurors found three of the ex-guards guilty of manslaughter and weapons charges, and a fourth guilty of murder.

The verdict comes more than seven years after the shooting incident that outraged Iraqis and inflamed anti-American sentiment around the world.

A court clerk read the jury’s verdict aloud on Wednesday around noon to a packed courtroom, repeating the word “guilty” 71 times as the defendants sat and listened silently. [Continue reading…]


My Iraqi city is falling, but America’s occupation unraveled all hope for unity

Najim Abed al-Jabouri writes: My city was supposed to be the model for a better tomorrow in Iraq. Integrated security forces from all ethnic groups, restored cohesion among the many segments of Iraqi society – this was the hope amid the surge, back when I was the mayor in Tal Afar.

But that was nearly a decade ago, and now my city is a battleground again, as government security forces attempt to withstand the march of Sunni militants, as the incubator for an Islamic state has turned into sectarian chaos. The dream of a unified Iraq has not just been deferred but destroyed.

Isis was a sleeping giant, and to see what went so wrong, you have to follow the destructive path set out by the United States as an occupying power in my country, almost from the moment those first air strikes began.

Back in 2003, most Shia Muslims and a good number of Kurds welcomed the Americans. The Sunni population, meanwhile, was not of one mind: many of them were outright opposed to US control, while others were holding out for things to change for the better. Give the occupiers six months, argued Sunni scholars, to see what happens. Iraq had suffered so many calamities – so many wars and siege after siege – that a population suffering in poverty and destitution, no matter one’s ethnic background, seemed willing to hope together.

Then the American occupational authority, led by Paul Bremer, dissolved state institutions (including the Iraqi army), uprooted the Ba’ath party (by way of harsh de-Baathification laws) and, even worse, failed to give adequate Sunni representation in the “transitional” government (five Sunni Muslims sat on the original Governing Council, to 13 Shia representatives, five Kurds and one Turkoman). This was the beginning of the end of that better tomorrow for Sunni people in Iraq. [Continue reading…]


Video: Is the U.S. occupation of Iraq really over?

Alternate Focus: With the departure of the last American soldier from Iraq, a bloody and expensive adventure ends—not with a bang, but with a whimper. As the Iraq War passes into history, Raed Jarrar, Tom Hayden, Nadia Keilani, and Johan Galtung comment on the lessons learned from this nine-year event, and debate whether the war and occupation are really over.


For U.S. marines, killing civilians was ‘a cost of doing business’ in Iraq

The New York Times reports: One by one, the Marines sat down, swore to tell the truth and began to give secret interviews discussing one of the most horrific episodes of America’s time in Iraq: the 2005 massacre by Marines of Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha.

“I mean, whether it’s a result of our action or other action, you know, discovering 20 bodies, throats slit, 20 bodies, you know, beheaded, 20 bodies here, 20 bodies there,” Col. Thomas Cariker, a commander in Anbar Province at the time, said to investigators as he described the chaos of Iraq. At times, he said, deaths were caused by “grenade attacks on a checkpoint and, you know, collateral with civilians.”

The 400 pages of interrogations, once closely guarded as secrets of war, were supposed to have been destroyed as the last American troops prepare to leave Iraq. Instead, they were discovered along with reams of other classified documents, including military maps showing helicopter routes and radar capabilities, by a reporter for The New York Times at a junkyard outside Baghdad. An attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.

The documents — many marked secret — form part of the military’s own internal investigation, and confirm much of what happened at Haditha, a Euphrates River town where Marines killed 24 Iraqis, including a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, women and children, some just toddlers.

Haditha became a defining moment of the war, helping cement an enduring Iraqi distrust of the United States and a resentment that not a single Marine was ever prosecuted. That is one of the main reasons that all American combat troops are leaving by the weekend.

But the accounts are just as striking for what they reveal about the extraordinary strains on the soldiers who were assigned here, their frustrations and their frequently painful encounters with a population they did not understand. In their own words, the report documents the dehumanizing nature of this war, where Marines came to view 20 dead civilians as not “remarkable,” but as routine.

Iraqi civilians were being killed all the time. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar Province, in his own testimony, described it as “a cost of doing business.”


U.S. pullout from Iraq continues


Maliki confirms US troops must leave Iraq by end of 2011

The Associated Press reports:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that an agreement requiring U.S. troops to leave by the end of 2011 will stand because Iraqi forces are capable of taking care of the country’s security.

The comments are his first on the subject since being tasked with forming a new government after nearly nine months of political deadlock, and some of his strongest to date on what is expected to be a key issue facing the next government.

“The security agreement with what it included of dates and commitments will remain valid, and I do not feel the need for the presence of any other international forces to help Iraqis control the security situation,” al-Maliki told reporters during his first news conference since getting the formal request on Thursday to form the new government.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the renewed influence of Muqtada al Sadr.

In recent months, Maliki’s government has freed hundreds of controversial members of the Shiite Muslim cleric’s Mahdi Army and handed security positions to veteran commanders of the militia, which was blamed for some of the most disturbing violence in the country’s civil war and insurgency against U.S. forces.

The Mahdi Army has also in effect seized control of cellblocks at one of Iraq’s largest detention facilities, Taji prison. Within months of the U.S. hand-over of the prison in March, Mahdi Army detainees were giving orders to guards who were either loyal to or intimidated by them, Iraqi and U.S. officials say.

It marks a remarkable return to prominence for Sadr, an Iranian-backed Shiite cleric who stunned his followers in September when he delivered pivotal parliamentary votes to Maliki that helped him stay in power.

Senior Sadr supporters are being brought into the Interior Ministry at high-level positions, according to Mahdi Army members and Iraqi officers. One Sadr commander who is being given the rank of brigadier general said he knew of 50 others who were being recruited for officers’ positions.

The group has secured political gains also. Last week, the Sadr camp won the deputy speaker position in parliament, defeating Maliki’s candidate, and is said to be vying for the post of deputy prime minister too.

The Sadr movement’s prominence may make it harder for the United States to wield its waning influence in Iraq, including securing an agreement allowing it to keep forces in Iraq after the end of 2011, when the last U.S. troops are scheduled to leave.


Torture and terrorism

One of the strange aspects relating to conspiracy theories concerning 9/11 is that they unwittingly obscure something even worse: that the US government foments terrorism not by design but by neglect; that its policies have had a direct and instrumental role in creating terrorists not simply by providing individuals and groups with an ideological pretext for engaging in terrorism but much more specifically by creating the conditions an individual’s political opposition to America’s actions would shift to unrestrained violent opposition.

The key which often unlocks the terrorist’s capacity for violence is his experience of being subject to violence through torture.

Chris Zambelis writes:

There is ample evidence that a number of prominent militants — including al-Qaeda deputy commander Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — endured systematic torture at the hands of the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities, respectively. Many observers believe that their turn toward extreme radicalism represented as much an attempt to exact revenge against their tormentors and, by extension, the United States, as it was about fulfilling an ideology. Those who knew Zawahiri and can relate to his experience believe that his behavior today is greatly influenced by his pursuit of personal redemption to compensate for divulging information about his associates after breaking down amid brutal torture sessions during his imprisonment in the early 1980s. For radical Islamists and their sympathizers, U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic support for regimes that engage in this kind of activity against their own citizens vindicates al-Qaeda’s claims of the existence of a U.S.-led plot to attack Muslims and undermine Islam. In al-Qaeda’s view, these circumstances require that Muslims organize and take up arms in self-defense against the United States and its allies in the region.

The latest revelations provided by Wikileaks show how the war in Iraq — the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism — became not simply a terrorist training ground, but a cauldron in which terrorists could be forged.


The Guardian reports:

A grim picture of the US and Britain’s legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.

Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.

The new logs detail how:

• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.

• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.

• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The Pentagon might hide behind claims that it neither authorized nor condoned violence used by Iraqi authorities on Iraqi detainees, but the difference between being an innocent bystander and being complicit consists in whether one has the power to intervene. The US military’s hands were not tied. As the occupying power it had both the means, the legal authority and the legal responsibility to stop torture in Iraq. It’s failure to do so was a matter of choice.

Will the latest revelations from Wikileaks be of any political consequence? I seriously doubt it, given that we now have a president dedicated not only to refusing to look back but also to perpetuating most of the policies instituted by his predecessor.

For more information on the documents released by Wikileaks, see The Guardian‘s Iraq war logs page.


Iraqis say they were forced to take Blackwater settlement

Iraqis say they were forced to take Blackwater settlement

Several victims of a 2007 shooting involving American private security guards employed by the firm formerly known as Blackwater alleged Sunday that they were coerced into reaching settlements, and they demanded that the Iraqi government intervene to have the agreements nullified.

The Iraqis said they were pressured by their own attorneys into accepting what they now believe are inadequate settlements because they were told the company was about to file for bankruptcy, that its chairman was going to be arrested and that the U.S. government was about to confiscate all of the firm’s assets. This would be their last chance to get any compensation, the victims said they were told.

When criminal charges against the guards were dismissed by a U.S. federal judge on Dec. 31, the Iraqis concluded that they had been duped and that Blackwater, now called Xe, was not in the kind of legal and financial trouble they had been led to believe. [continued…]


Iraqis express dismay over Blackwater ruling

Iraqis express dismay over Blackwater ruling

Cars breezed by the trimmed green hedges and flowers of Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on Friday, while pedestrians strolled past billboards of smiling men and women promoting national elections. Little trace was left of the September 2007 day when Blackwater security guards opened fire on the crowded intersection, killing 17 civilians.

On Thursday, a judge in a U.S. federal court had thrown out the criminal prosecution of five Blackwater guards involved in the shootings. The consequences of that decision were still being felt Friday by survivors of the attack, politicians and ordinary Iraqis, who expressed feelings of helplessness at the hands of the United States.

The Iraqi government vowed to seek an appeal. Victims and others said they doubted they would ever see justice, convinced the American government considers their blood cheap.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled that prosecutors of the five security guards had wrongly relied on statements the defendants made to State Department investigators under the promise of immunity. The guards, who were facing counts of manslaughter and firearms violations, maintained they opened fire in response to an attack. Iraqis dispute that. [continued…]

Iraq to sue ex-Blackwater guards

Iraq said Friday that it will file a lawsuit against five Blackwater security guards cleared of manslaughter charges in the 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians, an act a government official called murder.

The Iraqi government also will ask the U.S. Justice Department to appeal a federal judge’s “unfair and unacceptable” dismissal of the charges Thursday, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

An Iraqi man wounded in the 2007 incident also voiced his anger Friday, saying U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina’s dismissal of the charges showed “disregard for Iraqi blood.” [continued…]