Assault on Red Crescent an Escalation in Iraq

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Less than a mile from where British prime minister Tony Blair was gripping and grinning during a surprise visit to Baghdad on Sunday, agents of the extremist factions that he and George W. Bush have empowered, paid, and heavily armed were raiding the offices of the Iraqi Red Crescent Agency and rounding up some of the few remaining relief workers in the country who attend to the suffering of all sides. This bold, broad-daylight assault came less than 48 hours after top Red Crescent officials publicly accused US military forces of conducting a series of attacks on the agency’s offices around the country during the course of the war.

As the New York Times reports, the Sunday raid followed a grim pattern that is by now well-established in the bloodsoaked capital, and is likely to have the same grim conclusion. The usual "armed men dressed in police commando uniforms" descended on the Red Crescent office just outside the Coalition’s Green Zone island of virtual reality and methodically went through the building and seized all the male employees. Seven men were later released, while the rest were taken off to an unknown location.

The "armed men in police commando uniforms" were, of course, police commandos, in this case almost certainly under the control of the Interior Ministry, one of the Shiite enclaves in the sectarian-riddled government. As the NYT notes, "Control of the district, in the heart of Baghdad, was given to the Iraqi police in November." The Interior and Defense Ministries, which control the bulk of Iraq’s security forces, are in the hands of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the militant Shiite party whose leader, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, was given a warm White House welcome by Bush earlier this month. SCIRI was formed in Iran by Iraqi exiles and touts Khomeini-style clerical rule. Yet because of its long-time willingness to wheel and deal with America’s "security organs," it has been a favorite of the invaders throughout the occupation. In a recent TomPaine.com article, Robert Dreyfuss provides this concise summary of the violent extremist’s present position in Iraq: "Today al-Hakim controls the SCIRI militia, the Badr Brigade, the Iraqi interior ministry and many of Iraq’s feared death squads. Not to put too fine a point on it, Hakim is a mass murderer."

The Red Crescent raid was a leisurely affair, carried out by dozens of men who arrived in two police cars and about 20 other vehicles, the Los Angeles Times reports. In order to reach the normally quiet area where the Red Crescent offices are located, the raiders had to pass through several checkpoints controlled by SCIRI’s "official" government security forces. Once in, the attackers fanned out to warn local shopkeepers to stay inside, then entered the building and began a room-by-room search. They were evidently not worried about interference from local law-enforcement officials

Female employees of the agency said the raiders were apparently looking for Sunnis; they asked for family names (one of the quickest ways to discern Shiite from Sunni) and tribal identifications. One woman said the men told her: "You work with bad people." Again, the excellent NYT article by Sabrina Tavernise gives the background: "The Red Crescent, part of the International Red Cross movement, is well known in Iraq for its activity in Sunni Arab areas. It is one of the few aid organizations that provide relief in Anbar province, and it recently assisted Sunnis driven out of Hurriya in Baghdad."

Seven men were released unharmed just after the raid; the NYT reported that at least one of these was a Shiite. The rest of the captives were taken to an unknown location. By mid-week, a total of 17 of the captives had been freed. As in previous such raids, it is likely that the Shiite militia/policemen will release any other Shiites and non-Sunnis remaining among the captives, then torture and kill any Sunnis, dumping their bodies elsewhere in the city later. These quasi-official death squads — who receive most of their training, money and weapons from the United States and Britain — have been increasingly brazen in carrying out a broad-based ethnic cleansing campaign in Baghdad. Their Sunni equivalents — with less official backing — are carrying out a similar if smaller-scale consolidation in the areas they control.

Just as Sunnis were the apparent target of Sunday’s raid, the fact that the Red Crescent does relief work for Sunnis has also been the main impetus behind the American attacks on its offices. In fact, Jamal al Karbouli, Red Crescent vice president, said that US forces had attacked the agency’s Baghdad headquarters — site of Sunday’s raid by US-backed Iraqi police commandos — several times since the 2003 invasion, Reuters reports. The building is often ransacked by American troops, employees are detained or taken away, and other materials destroyed, he said. Such incidents have occurred throughout the country, most recently in Fallujah, where earlier this month American forces raided the agency’s Fallujah office, detained volunteers and staff, and "burned the cars and even the building, which belongs to us," Karbouli said.

The raids are apparently based on false information accusing the agency of collaboration with Sunni insurgents, Karbouli said. "Four to five times they have attacked the headquarters — they break doors and windows, just to see. And they didn’t find anything, and they left. We don’t know the reason behind it; is it to scare us or decrease our work or another reason, as they mention, fear of terrorists? We don’t know. The Iraqi Red Crescent is the only Iraqi body working all over Iraq. Because of this, they are suspicious," he told Reuters. American officials said that US forces don’t "attack" the agency’s offices, but carry out careful and respectful investigations of credible intelligence reports.

The American-trained extremist militias embedded in Iraq’s official security forces obviously don’t feel bound by such legal niceties.

II.

The juxtaposition of Sunday’s events was deeply revelatory of the split between the reality of Iraq today and the meaningless and literally murderous blather being offered up by the pious chieftains of the occupying "Coalition." In his brief visit — just two days after he’d become the first sitting UK prime minister to be questioned in a criminal investigation for allegedly selling peerages in exchange for underhanded campaign cash from fat cats — Blair doled out the usual weedy echo of Bush’s usual codswollop: "British troops will remain until the job is done, and that job is building up the Iraqi capability." Blair, vowing never to "cut and run," emphasized the need for increased US-UK training and funding of "Iraq’s security forces" — in other words, the same groups that carried out Sunday’s raid and have been summarily executing thousands of Iraqis in the past year.

Later, when asked about the Red Crescent attack and the rising violence in Iraq, Blair skittered away into that inner Green Zone of fortified fantasy where the war’s backers increasingly dwell. "There is innocent blood being spilled, but it’s not being spilled by the Iraqi government," he told the NYT.

Yet it beggars belief to imagine that Blair and Bush (or at least the latter’s chief advisers) do not know that they have helped form many of the very militias they now rail against daily, and that their much-trumpeted support for Iraq’s "security forces" is in fact one of the main engines driving the sectarian civil war. One can only conclude from this that Bush and Blair have decided that the sectarian war should be played to their own advantage, and pushed toward the only result that now offers even the slightest chance of "success" in their war of aggression: the triumph of a Shiite extremist faction willing to cut an acceptable deal on the all-important "oil law" and perhaps allow a continued US military presence in the country, if only a few "lily-pad" skeleton bases.

These have always been the main goals of the Bush Faction’s warmongers, even before the administration took power in the 2000 judicial coup: to open Iraq’s oil fields to cronies of the conquerors, and to plant a US "military footprint" in this strategic heart of the Middle East. They have hewed toward these goals with a remarkable, ruthless focus. This is one key reason why the occupation of Iraq has been such a slap-dash affair; its authors didn’t really care what sort of regime sprang up in the wake of the invasion, or how it got cobbled together, as long as it played ball on oil and military bases. (A third main goal of the operation — war profiteering on an unprecedented, almost unfathomable scale — has already been accomplished.)

They would have done better to pay more attention to "side issues" like the security of the Iraqi people and the provision of essential services, of course. But the Bush-led warmongers are, after all, a collection of stunted intellects, stupefied by greed and primitive ideologies. Now, facing the imminent ruin of their reckless and misbegotten enterprise, they are down to their last card: the wheelers and dealers of SCIRI.

In these past weeks following the November elections, Bush and Blair have set about trying to build a new coalition around Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is dependent for his political power on the support of hardline Shiite cleric and fierce nationalist Motqada al-Sadr and his mass "Mahdi Army," which already controls several areas of the country, including large swathes of Baghdad. Sadr, who along with his martyred family stayed in Iraq and fought Saddam’s repression, has long been at odds with Hakim and SCIRI, who fled to Iran and whose forces even fought for Iran against their fellow Iraqis in the 1980s Iran-Iraq War. This conflict has often flared into violent battles, especially in the last year, forming yet another front in Iraq’s multi-sided civil war. Sadr, whose army has already led two uprising against American forces, will never accept a continued US presence in the country. Nor is anyone with his nationalist beliefs to be trusted to do right by Bush’s oil patrons.

Thus it seems increasingly clear that Bush and Blair have decided to wage all-out war on Sadr, with the help of the "surge" troops now being put together. This will be the "New Way Forward" that Bush’s mouthpieces have been talking about. American soldiers will fight for SCIRI and its allies, and for any other faction that seems likely to acquiesce in some measure to the Coalition’s twin war aims. The fact that this will be yet another strategic mistake of horrendous proportions will not stop the stunted intellects from giving it a try. Sadr, who commands the fanatical devotion of millions of Iraqis — millions of armed Iraqis — cannot be defeated militarily without a bloodbath that would make even the utter hell of present-day Iraq look mild by comparison.

Sunday’s attack on the Red Crescent is a harbinger of what’s to come, and a microcosm of the great atrocity that is the war itself: a vicious assault by torturers and murderers on innocent people while self-proclaimed liberators look on, mouthing pieties, talking tough, and daintily cleansing their hands of blood.

This article originally appeared on Truthout.org.

Chris Floyd [send him mail] is the author of Empire Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime.

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