Thursday, February 17, 2005

Iraq's "Pop-up" militias

Spencer Ackerman picked up on a Wall Street Journal article yesterday that describes how the U.S. has recently discovered a whole set of government-supported (that would be the Allawi executive apparatus, principally, not the U.S.) militias have been formed. He misses one point, however, which is just how difficult it was for the U.S. to track some of these guys down in the first place:
Then on Jan. 30, the day before the Iraqi elections, Maj. Wales got a tip via his boss, Gen. Petraeus, that a new 2,000-man force calling itself the Second Defenders of Baghdad Brigade had formed somewhere in the city under the command of an Iraqi general named "Faris."

But Maj. Wales's usual American and Iraqi sources had never heard of the unit -- or the general. "There are no generals named Faris in the Iraqi Army," one senior Iraqi general in the Ministry of Defense told him.

Maj. Wales began to think Gen. Petraeus had been passed a bad tip. "There is no way in the world there could be a Second Defenders of Baghdad Brigade," Maj. Wales said. "It is just impossible. There is no place in Baghdad left to put them."

Maj. Wales made a few more calls to U.S. liaison officers working with the Iraqis and turned up nothing. Finally, he got in touch with Gen. Babakir Zebari, Iraq's top general, who said the brigade had recently moved into tents and a hangar bay at Baghdad's long-abandoned Muthana Airport.
Boy, that was brilliant, finally figuring out that Iraq's top general might actually know something about these things -- I mean, how could that be?

Ackerman's update to his original post, which notes Swopa's point that these militias might in fact be the death squads of the infamous "Salvador option," is puzzling, since the point of this article is that the U.S. is fairly clueless and behind the curve. I suspect that the U.S. military calls these off-the-book militias "pop-ups" because they have only recently popped up on their own very tiny radar.

New readers may want to look at my January postings debunking much of the debate around the "Salvador option" issue here, here and here. Full access to the WSJ piece is found, in two parts, in the comments section of a posting at LAT.


Eric Martin said...

What no mention of the Asia Times piece? I'm hurt.

Just a joke of course.

Anonymous said...

... the point of this article is that the U.S. is fairly clueless and behind the curve.I think you're overlooking the extent to which the right hand (in fact, the entire rest of the body) may not know what the left hand is doing -- either intentionally or accidentally.

If, to adopt a worst-case scenario, the U.S. did authorize the creation of death squads in Iraq, I doubt they'd send a memo confirming this out to every unit in the countryside.

In fact, given the chaotic nature of our occupation, even if universal notification was desired (whatever the nature of the Iraqi militias), it's likely that many people wouldn't have gotten the memo.

So the mere fact that U.S. military units are confused by the existence of the militias doesn't really demonstrate anything about whether the latter's purposes are good, bad, or mixed.

David said...


Of course, the left hand doesn't necessarily know what the right hand is doing, and even if it did, I agree it wouldn't be broadcast via memo. But absent evidence, your argument is just speculation.

I do agree that this point says nothing about whether these militias are good or bad. I suspect we agree that they are a bad idea. But it does seem to me an important point of difference whether or not they were planned by the U.S. or rather accepted by the U.S. after the fact, which is what the information we have so far suggests. Adherence to the earlier "death squad" story, to me, isn't real evidence of U.S. designs, given the discussion from last month on this site.