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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Torture strengthens insurgency

Today the International Crisis Group will release Middle East Report No. 50 called In their own words: Reading the Iraqi insurgency. The objective of the report is to help the US defeat the insurgency by winning hearts and minds, which means understanding how the insurgency gains its legitimacy and delegitimises the occupation (page 4).
As U.S. officials repeatedly have acknowledged, this war will not be won on the battlefield, at least not on the battlefield alone. All three principal actors have been hobbled by non-military factors: the U.S. by the collapse of its legitimacy in Iraqi eyes and by growing scepticism at home; its Iraqi allies by a credibility deficit; and the insurgency by accusations of sectarianism and resort to ghastly methods. Perceptions, in others words, will play a critical part in the conflicts outcome. Prevailing in this arena requires, at a minimum, taking seriously what the armed opposition says, understanding how it resonates and why, and addressing the legitimate grievances it expresses.
The executive summary states that respect for human rights is key to countering negative perceptions about the occupation
Countering the insurgency requires taking its discourse seriously, reducing its legitimacy and increasing that of the Iraqi government. The harm from excessive use of force, torture, tactics that inflict widespread civilian injury and reliance on sectarian militias outweighs any military gain. It is essential for the U.S. to hold the new government accountable and make clear that long-term relations, economic aid and military cooperation depend on disbanding militias, halting political killings and respecting human rights.
In the body, the report describes the insurgency's tactic of legitimising the occupation
Mirroring the coalitions own accusations, the insurgency repeatedly charges its enemies with waging a dirty war in which U.S. forces engage in heavy military assaults while subcontracting torture and forced disappearances to local allies.[174] These include the Badr Corps, the Saqr and Dhib police commandos and the national guards.[175] The U.S. is condemned for relying on sectarian-based death squads and turning a blind eye to numerous crimes committed against Sunni Arabs in general.[176]
Consequently, of the 6 recommendations made at the end of the report (page 26), 4 of them relate to ending human rights abuses by the Coalition and its Iraqi allies. They are
  • closely monitoring, controlling and, if necessary, punishing, the behaviour of security forces;
  • halting recourse to the most questionable types of practices, including torture and extraordinary methods of interrogation and confinement, collective punishment and extra-judicial killings;
  • ending the use of sectarian militias as a complement to, or substitute for, regular armed forces and beginning a serious process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of militia fighters;
  • the U.S. holding the new government accountable and making clear that longer-term relations, economic assistance and future military cooperation will depend on the steps it takes to rein in and ultimately disband militias, halt politically-motivated killings and respect human rights and the rule of law;

Further reading, opinions and commentary:


[174] In October 2005, al-Jaysh al-Islami devoted a special edition of al-Fursan to the alleged massacre in al-Iskan, a Sunni neighbourhood of Baghdad. The article included details of an alleged joint operation of Interior Ministry forces and the Badr Corps on 11 August 2005. Insurgents claimed there were mass detentions, and they later uncovered near the Iranian border the desecrated bodies of those who had been arrested. Numerous videos purporting to document such crimes have been released by Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna and Tandhim al-Qaida.

[175] The Badr Corps regularly is dubbed the Ghadr Corps (meaning perfidious, traitorous, insidious); the National Guard (al-Haras al-Watani) is called the Pagan Guard (al-Haras al- Wathani).

[176] See Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna communiqué, 12 August 2005, alleging that the Badr Corps had engaged in atrocities with U.S. blessing. The insurgents claims undeniably have been served by actions undertaken by the Coalition and its allies. A forthcoming Crisis Group report will examine these actions in more detail.


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