The Salvador Option

In a significant move, Iraq's most influential Sunni group has announced that it will abandon its call for a boycott of January's elections if the US provides a timetable for withdrawing the occupying forces. Given that the US is verbally committed to both leaving Iraq and claims to be concerned about persuading the Sunni's to participate in the forthcoming elections (to ensure their perceived legitimacy), surely the US would jump at this development. Needless to say, the US has rejected giving a timetable for a withdrawal.

Equally significantly, the US does not want to delay the elections (which will take place while an official state of emergency is in effect) in spite of the violence, in spite of Sunni leaders urging that they be postponed and in spite of rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr joining the Sunni call. Moqtada quite rightly argues that elections cannot happen if Sunnis cannot fairly participate. Moreover, he argued that elections cannot happen until the foreign coalition troops leave because elections held under occupation are illegitimate.

Clearly the Bush Junta is not concerned about the havoc which will be caused by an election that disenfranchises a large portion of the Iraqi population. Perhaps we should not be too surprised: why should it worry about disenfranchisement overseas when it does not worry about at home? Perhaps he wants to show that his plan for "democratising" the Middle East is working. Perhaps he does not want to piss off the majority of Shi'ites who want an election? Whatever the reason, the elections will not stop the insurgency any more than the others things the US claimed would (like, for example, the deaths of Saddam's son, Saddam's capture, the transfer of "sovereignty" to US puppets, the levelling of Fallujah). The US will be bogged down in Iraq for sometime to come.

Numerous commentators have wondered why the US invaded without an apparent exit strategy. As noted before, this is unsurprising once you realise that you do not need an exit plan it you are planning to stay. The construction of 14 permanent military bases and the largest US Embassy in the world does not suggest a desire to leave any time soon. The US state did not spend billions to liberate the Iraqi people. It did so to create a US client state at the heart of the Middle East. This would, ideally, be a (formally) democratic state whose governments by some strange coincidence simply refuse to ask the US to dismantle its presence in the country or question the neo-liberal economic policies the US has imposed.

Whether US imperialism will succeed in its neo-colonialism remains to be seen. One thing is sure, it will stop at nothing to achieve its goal. With (predictable and predicted) failure of the assault on Fallujah, the US is talking of turning to other, equally barbaric, forms of repression. Newsweek reports that the Pentagon is considering what it terms "an El Salvador strategy" in Iraq. This, "the Salvador Option", involves the pentagon putting Special-Forces-led Assassination or Kidnapping Teams in Iraq. Ostensibly the aim is to combat insurgency, specifically insurgents or their sympathisers.

When used in Latin America, this policy produced death squads that killed civilians (labelled as "leftists") indiscriminately. Such a policy is linked to the infamous "School of the Americas" (now renamed the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation"). This institution trained members of the Latin American military and its graduates overthrew democratic governments all over the Americas and organised death squads responsible for rape, torture, and murder. The US state used to wash their hands of this, saying that the SOA simply trained soldiers in "counter-insurgency." And what does the US face in Iraq? Given that they label it an "insurgency" perhaps we should not be too surprised at this development.

Given the history of John Negroponte, the new US ambassador to Iraq, this turn of events is unsurprising. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras during the early 1980s when the "Salvador option" gained its name. Faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the Reagan government supported "nationalist" forces. These included death squads which were ordered to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathisers (basically, anyone who dared oppose the US-supported right-wing government). US conservatives considered the policy a success as the revolt was eventually quelled. The fact that tens of thousands of innocent civilians (plus the odd Jesuit Priest and American nun) were murdered was (and is) considered unimportant. Needless to say, the graduates of the SOA played a leading role in the slaughter.

Negroponte's main task was to implement the Reagan administration's (illegal) efforts to arm and train Contra rebels. These would cross the border into Nicaragua in an attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government. Even the CIA, which oversaw the Contra operation, eventually had to admit that the Contras "engaged in kidnapping, extortion, and robbery to fund its operations." Avoiding combat with the Nicaraguan army, it became a terrorist group attacking civilian targets in an effort to disrupt Nicaragua's society. Again, tens of thousands of civilians were murdered.

Honduras itself was a military dictatorship hidden by a civilian facade. Negroponte used US aid to further increase the strength of its military. Faced with a recent increase in repression and human-rights, he did not care and looked the other way violations while the CIA trained Battalion 316, a Honduran military intelligence project responsible for widespread torture, kidnapping, and extrajudicial killing.

So the "Salvador option" is horrific. And we can expect the new Iraqi version to be as bad. According to Iraq National Intelligence Service Director Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, the insurgents "are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them." While most Iraqi people do not actively support the insurgents or help, they will not turn them in. Strangely, Newsweek failed to mention what the General's previous job was, namely one of Saddam's intelligence chiefs in Baghdad (in which he earned a reputation for brutality). A military source agrees that this is the crux of the problem, suggesting that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."

And that is the key: the Sunni population is paying no price. The US state wants to change that. In el Salvador, that meant arming and training death squads guilty of torture, massacres and "disappearances." And, of course, overlooking the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians. That should not be an issue in Iraq, given the numbers already killed by the US invasion. Needless to say, according to Newsweek, the "interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is said to be among the most forthright proponents of the Salvador option."

So the goal is to terrorise the Sunni Arab civilian population. It needs to be stated clearly: "death squads" are terrorists. Their goal is not simply to catch/kill suspected criminals or insurgents, but to frighten populations into submission. It is collective punishment of an entire people. To quote President Bush:

"If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they take that lonely path at their own peril."


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