Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bayan Jabr and the Chilling Gangs of Iraq

So you know those daily news reports you see about mutilated bodies being found and catastrophic bombings? Well it’s not random.

The choice of “soft targets” like markets -- often selected to maximize civilian casualties -- and attacks against a specific community like the Iraqi Shi’ite Muslims of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad are by design, intended to provoke the genocidal passions of civil war. And unfortunately it often works. The more provocative the attacks, the more difficult it can be to contain the retaliatory violence.

Look what happened on November 23, 2006 and the day after. A series of six car bombs and at least two mortars ripped through Sadr City, killing at least 215 Iraqis and injured another 257. The next morning, Shi’ite militiamen retaliated by carrying out extrajudicial killings of dozens of Sunni Muslims. CBS/AP reported militia men dousing 6 Sunni Muslims in kerosene and burning them alive, and the Abu Hanifa mosque, Baghdad’s holiest Sunni Muslim shrine, came under mortar attack.

An escalating cycle of tit-for-tat violence in Iraq and a loss of public confidence here at home clearly led President Bush to reach for a “change in strategy.” Previously for years, the “we will stand down as the Iraqis stand up” mantra defined the Bush/Rumsfeld approach to achieving “victory.” But they failed to recognize the growing pressures of sectarian politics and civil war, or reverse the decisions (particularly by the unrepentant L. Paul Bremer) that ratcheted up those pressures.

There is no better documentary to see all of these disastrous consequences in full display than Gangs of Iraq, a joint production of FRONTLINE and the America at a Crossroads series. I’ve been talking with our NGO colleagues in Washington about showing the one-hour film, which I also recommend for college campuses and communities. You can watch it online here.

Here’s the opening lines of the transcript:
ANNOUNCER: In a divided country, America set out to train Iraqi forces.
NIR ROSEN, Author and Journalist: They were loyal
to Moqtada al Sadr, to Abdul Aziz Hakim, but not to the Iraqi state and not to
anybody in the Green Zone.
ANNOUNCER: Now Iraq is even more divided.
DEXTER FILKINS, New York Times Baghdad Bureau, 2003-06: We started hearing reports of death squads, kidnapping rings, extrajudicial killings.
ANNOUNCER: And less secure.
MATT SHERMAN, Ministry of Interior Adviser, 2003-05: My
fear is that what we're doing is equipping Iraqis for civil war.

Photo of Bayan Jabr, former Minister of Interior. Jabr now serves as Iraq's Finance Minister.
Particularly chilling is the interview with Bayan Jabr, a top deputy in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a major Shi'ite political party originally sponsored by Tehran. After his appointment as Minister of Interior following the January 2005 elections, he began staffing commando units with Badr Corps commanders. Soon after, there were reports of death squads operating out of the Interior Ministry. By November 2006, U.S. forces began discovering torture chambers in buildings run by the Interior Ministry. It’s impossible to watch Jabr flagrantly deny all of these reports including the eyewitness accounts of our troops and the bona fide testimonials of torture survivors without shouting at him.

If you only have time to watch one 10-minute chapter, watch chapter four which includes the Jabr interview.


Anonymous said...

Do you really think that the people of Iraq have any concept much less appreciation of democracy?

Anonymous said...

Is Jabr a descendant of Heinrich Himmler?

erglerg said...

i saw the gangs of iraq documentary too on pbs and was blown away. it was a very well done doc. the whole america at a crossroads series was really well done i thought.

Erik K. Gustafson said...

Re: erglerg, do you think EPIC should urge our members to host house parties with the documentary. "Gangs of Iraq" is only an hour long, which is an ideal length for discussion afterwards. We're looking for a couple films that educate and lead to the kind of frank disc. that's needed about the best way forward in Iraq. What do you think?

Re: Anonymous1 - I think the people of Iraq have as much appreciation for democracy as America's colonial forebears. The problem largely relates to the "democracy" that we imposed on Iraq, which created a fundamental contradiction and contributed to the conflict that has made progress in Iraq so difficult. Remember, the essense of democracy is the humbling of power, and the vast majority of Iraqis both welcomed the end of Saddam Hussein and -- following initial Sunni Arab rejection -- participated in Iraq's most recent national elections. Don't allow the car bombs and suicide attacks of a tiny few speak for the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who voted. Sadly, the U.S. media rarely offers them equal time. As the ratings game goes, "what bleeds, leads."

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