A disturbing trend noticeable in Iraq for quite some time now is that each aggressive Israeli military operation in the occupied territories results in a corresponding increase in the number of attacks on US forces in Iraq. One of the first instances of this was the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March 2004 and the reaction it set off across Shia and Sunni, ultimately spiraling into the siege and devastation of Fallujah. Fallujah is but one example one may use to demonstrate how the ongoing use of heavy handed tactics by the US-Israel alliance is proving to be as suicidal as it is homicidal. US troops in Iraq and Israeli civilians in their homes can bear testimony to this, as they are the ones who bear the brunt. Not to mention the collateral damage in Iraq.
May 17, 2004, Washington
Cofer Black, at the time Coordinator for Counterterrorism for the US State Department, in a talk at the 2004 Policy Conference for the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said that of all the nations cooperating with the US in the global war on terror, “none [is] more stalwart than the state of Israel.” He told the audience of the powerful lobby group that “Our two great nations will stand together to fight terror” and deemed the US-Israel Joint Counterterrorism Group (JCG) “an important part of our counterterrorism partnership.”
May 10, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq
The first US siege of Fallujah ended in early May, 2004, and on May 10th US forces abandoned all control of the city, handing it back over to the Iraqis.
April 4, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq
US military directed to launch the first, and eventually failed, revenge assault in retaliation for the four Blackwater USA mercenaries killed on March 31st. The siege caused severe casualties among the people of Fallujah, killing 736 people, over 60% of whom were women, children and the elderly, according to the director of Fallujah General Hospital.
April 2, 2004, Iraq
Speaking on al-Manar TV, Muqtada al-Sadr pledged, “From here I announce my solidarity with the genuine unity announced by Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah with the mujahideen movement Hamas. Let them consider me their striking hand in Iraq whenever the need arises. As the martyr Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said, Iraq and Palestine have the same destiny.”
March 31, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq
Four Blackwater USA mercenaries killed in Fallujah in an attack avenging the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Nine days after the assassination, the bodies of four mercenaries from Blackwater USA were burned, chopped into pieces, dragged behind vehicles bearing posters of Sheikh Yassin, and finally put on display by being hung from a bridge. Pamphlets were distributed at the scene which declared the attack against the four men as having been carried out in the name of Yassin. It was also reported by several Arab media outlets at the time that a group known as the “Phalange of Sheikh Yassin” claimed responsibility for the attack, and that the deaths of the four men were meant as a “gift to the Palestinian people.”
March 28, 2004, Baghdad, Iraq
The head of the CPA, Paul Bremer, ordered the closing of the al-Hawza newspaper, the mouthpiece of Muqtada al-Sadr. One of Sadr’s spokespeople, Sheikh Mahmud Sudani, told reporters at the time that al-Hawza had attracted censure because of its strong critique of the killing of Sheikh Yassin by Israeli forces. The closing of this paper was a primary factor that led to the first violent uprising called by Sadr against the occupiers.
March 26, 2004, Iraq
Four days after the assassination of Yassin, thousands of followers of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, carrying portraits both of Yassin and Sadr, demonstrated after Friday prayers in protest of Israel’s action by burning Israeli flags, chanting “No, no to Israel” and “No, no to occupation.” In Najaf, an Imam with the extremely powerful political party the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) called for demonstrations outside the revered Imam Ali mosque. Similar demonstrations were also held as far north as the city of Mosul.
The demonstration began promptly after it was ordered, with protesters shouting, “Death to Israel, death to America.” Other demonstrations continued across Iraq daily for weeks after the assassination, denouncing Israel’s actions. Even US-appointed puppets in Iraq’s Interim Governing Council expressed grave concerns that the killing of Yassin, who was highly respected throughout the Arab world, would escalate violence in Iraq. This concern materialized within hours, as blood began to flow throughout central and southern Iraq.
On the same day Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who commands more followers than any leader in Iraq, political or spiritual, released an unusually staunch statement of criticism, referring to the assassination of Yassin as “an ugly crime against the Palestinian people” with an injunction, “We call upon the core of the Arab and Islamic nations to close ranks, unite and work hard for the liberation of the usurped land.”
March 22, 2004, Gaza
While he was being wheeled out of his morning prayer session in his wheelchair on March 22, 2004, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assassinated by US-built Hellfire missiles fired by a US-built helicopter piloted by members of the Israeli military. The quadriplegic elder die along with two of his bodyguards and six bystanders. The half-blind Hamas leader was replaced by his son Rantissi, who was also murdered shortly after his father, on April 17th.
There was a clear connection between events in Gaza and what these generated in Iraq.
This act of state-sponsored terrorism by the Israeli government was opposed even by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said, “It [Israel] is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”
Reaction from the United States? The usual feeble inauthentic mumblings of “We condemn this attack.” Once again actions spoke far louder than words when the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning Yassin’s assassination.
Cofer Black later became Vice President of Blackwater USA, the erstwhile employer of the four mercenaries killed in Fallujah.
The ongoing alliance of unbridled and unbalanced military aid flowing into Israel from the US has gone unchallenged for years. “Since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US foreign assistance, and is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II,” according to an Issue Brief for Congress from 2002. This US military support to Israel has caused, especially in Iraq, an incredible backlash against US troops and contractors. This is not helped by the fact that much of this aid comes in the form of weapons. Israel is one of the largest importers of weapons from the US, and in the last decade alone, Israel purchased $7.2 billion in weapons and other military equipment. As a result, Israel is now the proud owner of the largest fleet of F-16 fighter jets outside of the United States.
I found it to be common knowledge in Iraq that, during the last six years of the Clinton presidency, the US gave Israel free weapons and ammunition, such as M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, .50 caliber machine guns and the ammunition for all of them.
The reputation of the US in the region has been further demolished both by the failed occupation of Iraq and by its perpetual support for Israeli policies, generally viewed with contempt throughout the Arab and Muslim world. The ongoing violations of international law by both countries don’t exactly assist matters either.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had given the “green light” for the Yassin operation, monitored its progress in real-time video transmitted from the Israeli military helicopters. His ecstasy was accompanied by complete dismissal of all international criticism.
Ask any US military commanders how they feel about the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq generated by revenge attacks in reaction to Israeli military policy against Palestinians. The consensus is an overwhelming thumbs down regarding the effectiveness of the strategy.
One could ask the families of the four Blackwater USA mercenaries who were killed in Fallujah on March 31, 2004, as well. The four men were killed in a revenge attack that had twofold causes – reports had been coming out of Fallujah for months about assassinations, rape and thefts carried out by “plain clothed” men working for the US military. But more pertinent to this particular attack is the date on which it occurred.
I remember seeing photos of Sheikh Yassin in several areas of Baghdad and Abu Ghraib while both entering and exiting Fallujah on April 9 and 10, during the US attack on the city. The photos of the slain Hamas leader were pasted on the sides of cars, trucks, roadside food stalls and even some houses.
It would appear that Cofer Black had left Israeli Prime Minister Sharon out of the cooperation loop of his counterterrorism strategy, as the Israeli military was being instructed by Sharon to carry out operations that engendered severe repercussions in Iraq and took the form, and continue to take the form, of dead American soldiers.
Not so coincidentally, less than a year after the first siege of Fallujah, on February 4, 2005, Cofer Black was named Vice-Chairman of Blackwater USA. The press release proudly announced his arrival in the company’s leadership, asserting that during his time in the State Department Black’s responsibilities included “coordinating US Government efforts to improve counterterrorism cooperation with foreign governments, including the policy and planning of the Department’s Antiterrorism Training Assistance Program.”
Is it perhaps possible that despite a 28-year career in the Directorate of Operations at the CIA, Black was unaware of Sharon’s plans to murder Yassin, or was unable to stop it, or most likely, approved of this methodology?
The latter possibility seems most likely when we consider the instances of direct Israeli involvement with US policy on the ground in Iraq that have long since come to light.
“One step the Pentagon took was to seek active and secret help in the war against the Iraqi insurgency from Israel, America’s closest ally in the Middle East,” wrote Seymor Hersh in the New Yorker in December, 2003, “According to American and Israeli military and intelligence officials, Israeli commandos and intelligence units have been working closely with their American counterparts at the Special Forces training base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and in Israel to help them prepare for operations in Iraq.” Israeli commandos are expected to serve as ad-hoc advisers – again, in secret – when full-field operations begin. Neither the Pentagon nor Israeli diplomats would comment. “No one wants to talk about this,” an Israeli official told me. “It’s incendiary. Both governments have decided at the highest level that it is in their interests to keep a low profile on US-Israeli cooperation” on Iraq.)” Hersh also told the BBC that his sources had confirmed the presence of Israeli intelligence personnel operating inside Iraq.
During that same month, it was reported that Israeli counter-insurgency specialists were sent to Fort Bragg to teach American special forces how to control an unruly Iraqi population. Also during December 2003, it was reported that “Israeli advisers are helping train US special forces in aggressive counter-insurgency operations in Iraq, including the use of assassination squads against guerrilla leaders, US intelligence and military sources said on Monday,” and “The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has sent urban warfare specialists to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the home of US special forces, and according to two sources, Israeli military “consultants” have also visited Iraq. US forces in Iraq’s Sunni triangle have already begun to use tactics that echo Israeli operations in the occupied territories, sealing off centers of resistance with razor wire and razing buildings from where attacks have been launched against US troops.”
Iraqis are all too aware of this, and I even saw this played out on the ground in Samarra as far back as December 2003. I interviewed a family whose home was demolished by military bulldozers after a roadside bomb detonated near it hit a passing US patrol. This, coupled with collective punishment of the city by cuts in electricity, water and medical aid, had everyone infuriated, and continues to do so today as these policies gain in scale, frequency and intensity.
These collective punishment tactics have been imposed, to one degree or another, in other cities in Iraq, such as Fallujah, Abu Hishma, Siniyah, Ramadi, areas of Baghdad, Balad and Baquba, to name just a few. Iraqis see the collective punishment meted out by Israeli military forces in Palestinian neighborhoods in the occupied territories via Arab satellite television networks, and are horrified to witness the very same tactics being applied on their soil.
Another destructive link highlighting the intertwined policies of the two countries is Abu Ghraib. In July 2004, after the torture scandal broke, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the US officer at the heart of the Abu Ghraib scandal, told BBC she had evidence that Israelis helped interrogate Iraqis at another detention facility in Iraq. Karpinski told the BBC she’d met a man who told her he was from Israel while she was visiting an intelligence center with a senior US general. “I saw an individual there that I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet before, and I asked him what did he do there, was he an interpreter – he was clearly from the Middle East,” she said. “He said, ‘Well, I do some of the interrogation here. I speak Arabic but I’m not an Arab; I’m from Israel.'”
I’ve spoken with several Iraqis who had been tortured in various military detention facilities throughout Iraq. Several of them testified to being interrogated by Israeli Mossad (an Israeli intelligence agency).
Another event that sent shock-waves throughout Iraq was the news from December 2004 that detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were tortured and, according to FBI agents, one detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and subjected to extremely loud music in order to shake his resistance to his interrogation.
It is clear that the longer the two countries continue with the use of their brute military power as the prime strategy in their war on terrorism, the greater grows the threat to the civilians they claim to protect.