Magazine article The American Prospect

Phoenix Rising: Tucked Away in the Recent Iraqi Appropriation Was $3 Billion for a New Paramilitary Unit. Close Students of Vietnam May See Similarities

Magazine article The American Prospect

Phoenix Rising: Tucked Away in the Recent Iraqi Appropriation Was $3 Billion for a New Paramilitary Unit. Close Students of Vietnam May See Similarities

Article excerpt

WITH THE 2004 ELECTORAL CLOCK ticking amid growing public concern about U.S. casualties and chaos in Iraq, the Bush administration's hawks are upping the ante militarily. To those familiar with the CIA's Phoenix assassination program in Vietnam, Latin America's death squads or Israel's official policy of targeted murders of Palestinian activists, the results are likely to look chillingly familiar.

The Prospect has learned that part of a secret $3 billion in new funds--tucked away in the $87 billion Iraq appropriation that Congress approved in early November--will go toward the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. Experts say it could lead to a wave of extrajudicial killings, not only of armed rebels but of nationalists, other opponents of the U.S. occupation and thousands of civilian Baathists--up to 120,000 of the estimated 2.5 million former Baath Party members in Iraq.

"They're clearly cooking up joint teams to do Phoenix-like things, like they did in Vietnam," says Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counterterrorism. Ironically, he says, the U.S. forces in Iraq are working with key members of Saddam Hussein's now-defunct intelligence agency to set the program in motion. "They're setting up little teams of Seals and Special Forces with teams of Iraqis, working with people who were former senior Iraqi intelligence people, to do these things," Cannistraro says.

The plan is part of a last-ditch effort to win the war before time runs out politically. Driving the effort are U.S. neoconservatives and their allies in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, who are clearly worried about America's inability to put down the Iraqi insurgency with time to spare before November. They are concerned that President Bush's political advisers will overrule the national-security team and persuade the president to pull the plug on Iraq. So, going for broke, they've decided to launch an intensified military effort combined with a radical new counterinsurgency program.

The hidden $3 billion will fund covert ("black") operations disguised as an Air Force classified program. According to John Pike, an expert on classified military budgets at globalsecurity.org, the cash, spread over three years, is likely being funneled directly to the CIA, boosting that agency's estimated $4 billion a year budget by fully 25 percent. Operations in Iraq will get the bulk of it, with some money going to Afghanistan. The number of CIA officers in Iraq, now 275, will increase significantly, supplemented by large numbers of the U.S. military's elite counterinsurgency forces. A chunk of those secret funds, according to Mel Goodman, a former CIA analyst, will to go to restive tribal sheikhs, especially in Sunni-dominated central Iraq. "I assume there are CIA people going around with bags of cash," says Goodman.

But the bulk of the covert money will support U.S. efforts to create a lethal, and revenge-minded, Iraqi security force. "The big money would be for standing up an Iraqi secret police to liquidate the resistance," says Pike. "And it has to be politically loyal to the United States."

Unable to quell the resistance to the U.S. occupation, the Pentagon is revamping its intelligence and special-operations task force in Iraq, a classified unit commanded by an Air Force brigadier general. It's also pouring money into the creation of an Iraqi secret police staffed mainly by gunmen associated with members of the puppet Iraqi Governing Council. Those militiamen are linked to Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Kurdish peshmerga ("facing death") forces and Shiite paramilitary units, especially those of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Technically illegal, these armed forces have been tolerated, even encouraged, by the Pentagon. Some of these militias openly patrol Baghdad and other cities, and in the south of Iraq, scores of Islamic-oriented paramilitary parties, with names like Revenge of God, are mobilized. …

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