The American viceroy in Iraq has changed his tune about the death squads. Zalmay Khalilzad “is now saying that militias are Iraq’s No. 1 security threat,” Jeffrey Gettleman reported in his striking front-page story on Sunday in the print edition of The New York Times, “Bound, Blindfolded and Dead: The Face of Revenge in Baghdad.”
And again in another front-pager this morning, “Shiite Fighters Clash With G.I.’s and Iraqi Forces,” Gettleman reports: “American officials are now saying that Shiite militias are the No. 1 problem in Iraq, more dangerous than the Sunni-led insurgents who for nearly the past three years have been branded the gravest security threat.”
Golly gee willikers, as Rummy Boy might say. Wasn’t it Khalilzad, widely hailed in press reports as the U.S. diplomatic genius of last resort, who not so long ago showed less than urgent concern for the problem of the death squads? According to Jon Lee Anderson’s lengthy New Yorker profile of him in December, as reported here:
When a Sunni politician came to his office in the Green Zone and told him the Shiite militias “were a greater problem than the insurgency … Khalilzad raised his eyebrows with interest … acknowledged that militias were a problem.” But, hélas, he had another, more “immediate concern” (terrorists from Syria, who are actually a small fraction of the insurgents according to the U.S. military’s own estimate).
Need we be reminded yet again of “the Salvador option” hidden in plain sight? Or the bold-faced contradictions of the American ‘ganda machine? Or the Bullshitter-in-Chief‘s latest phony claims of progress?
If Gettleman needed a reminder, he got one on his return to Iraq two weeks ago after being away for more than a year.
In a third stunning report published over the weekend, he noted: “The first story I covered began with a tip that vigilantes had hanged four suspected terrorists from lamp posts in Sadr City, a Shiite slum. The minute I got to the scene, I realized I was stepping into a new Iraq.”
What made it “new” was that the death squads now have free reign, unfettered by governmental restraints and encouraged more than ever by religious and sectarian differences. He writes:
The day after that mob scene in Sadr City, bodies started showing up, first a couple and then dozens. By conservative counts, nearly 200 civilian men have been executed in the past two weeks and dumped on Baghdad’s streets. Many have been hogtied. Some have had acid splashed on their faces. Others have been found without toes, fingers, eyes.
Granted, Baghdad is no stranger to the corpse. There were assassinations two years ago, when an entire intellectual class was being wiped out.
But this new wave of executions was different. It was more sadistic and less selective. These people weren’t rounded up because they were important. They were tortured and killed simply because of their religion. And because most of them were Sunni Muslim Arabs, there was no response from the Shiite-led government.
Mass murder used to provoke some form of official reaction, however feeble. I remember seeing the Iraqi police seal off areas after big bomb attacks and poke around for evidence. Now, there are major crimes with no crime scenes. Very few of these mystery killings have been investigated, and it isn’t for lack of witnesses. Many of these men were abducted in daylight, in public, in front of crowds.
Gettleman is not the first or the only reporter to describe what’s been happening, of course. But his reports, which offer unusual intimacy and insight, drive home the criminal reality of the Iraq war. If Americans are finally turning against the war, it’s because reports like his have exposed its moral bankruptcy.