Civil War in Iraq: The Salvador Option and US/UK Policy 1

As the catastrophe in Iraq continues to unfold, an unresolved question remains on the role of Bush, Blair, and the US/UK military. To what extent were they passively incompetent in facilitating the decline into civil war, and to what extent were they actively pursuing policies that promoted that outcome?

The adoption of the ‘Salvador Option’ by the US in Iraq was reported and discussed from the beginning of 2005 onwards. As described by Newsweek, the Salvador Option looked something like this:

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called “snatch” operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.

US Congressman Denis Kucinich took up the issue in April of this year in a letter to Donald Rumsfeld:

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

I am writing to request a copy of all records pertaining to Pentagon plans to use U.S. Special Forces to advise, support and train Iraqi assassination and kidnapping teams.

On January 8, 2005, Newsweek magazine first published a report that the Pentagon had a proposal to train elite Iraqi squads to quell the growing Sunni insurgency. The proposal has been called the “Salvador Option,” which references the U.S. military assistance program, initiated under the Carter Administration and subsequently pursued by the Reagan Administration, that funded and supported “nationalist” paramilitary forces who hunted down and assassinated rebel leaders and their supporters in El Salvador. This program in El Salvador was highly controversial and received much public backlash in the U.S., as tens of thousands of innocent civilians were assassinated and “disappeared,” including notable members of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Oscar Romero and the four American churchwomen. According to the Newsweek report, Pentagon conservatives wanted to resurrect the Salvadoran program in Iraq because they believed that despite the incredible cost in human lives and human rights, it was successful in eradicating guerrillas…..

…About one year before the Newsweek report on the “Salvador Option,” it was reported in the American Prospect magazine on January 1, 2004 that part of $3 billion of the $87 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill to fund operations in Iraq, signed into law on November 6, 2003, was designated for the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. According to the Prospect article, experts predicted that creation of this paramilitary unit would “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.” The article further described how the bulk of the $3 billion program, disguised as an Air Force classified program, would be used to “support U.S. efforts to create a lethal, and revenge-minded Iraqi security force.” According to one of the article’s sources, John Pike, an expert of classified military budgets at “the big money would be for standing up an Iraqi secret police to liquidate the resistance.”…

…News reports over the past 10 months strongly suggest that the U.S. has trained and supported highly organized Iraqi commando brigades, and that some of those brigades have operated as death squads, abducting and assassinating thousands of Iraqis.

The evidence that the US directly contributed to the creation of the current civil war in Iraq by its own secretive security strategy is compelling. Historically of course this is nothing new – divide and rule is a strategy for colonial powers that has stood the test of time. Indeed, it was used in the previous British occupation of Iraq around 85 years ago. However, maybe in the current scenario the US just over did it a bit, creating an unstoppable momentum that, while stalling the insurgency, has actually led to new problems of control and sustainability for Washington and London.

So, what did Blair know of and approve in the implementation of the Salvador Option? How does he feel about it now? Maybe someone should ask him.

One thought on “Civil War in Iraq: The Salvador Option and US/UK Policy

  • Nur-al-Cubicle

    Dear Mr Murray:

    I met US Ambassador Mr Robert White, who served for a time in El Salvador in the '80s. Mr White, acting out of outrage and concern, toured the country back then, lecturing on the how US involvement with the death squads was undermining our own policies. It was then that I first encountered the names of Messrs Negroponte and Elliot Abrams. As usual, no lesson was learned. The Republicans in charge remain what they are.

    By the way, Iraq expert Pierre-Jean Luizard has written in the "Le Monde" that the US is training a "secular" Iraqi paramilitary force outside the country that is being groomed for a possible coup d'etat, which he thinks would fail.

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