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Operation Lightning: Is Iraq Another Honduras?

Reported by Marie Therese - May 30, 2005

On Friday's Big Story substitute host Judge Andrew Napolitano claimed for the umpteeth time that American-trained Iraqi forces will clean up the insurgency in Iraq.

NAPOLITANO: "Iraqi security forces have been training for this. They're on a mission to take terrorists off the streets. It's called Operation Lightning with 40,000 troops setting up hundreds of checkpoints and going door to door in Baghdad next week. They're trying to curb the deadly violence coming from enemy fighters in Iraq..."

Lower Chyron: BIG FACT: OPERATION WILL HAVE AN OFFENSIVE POSTURE.

Napolitano asked his guest, retired Army Lt. Col. James Carafano, a Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow, if Operation Lightning will stop terrorists.

Carafano made the following points.

(a) The average Iraqi will see this exercise as an assertion of power by the new Iraqi government .

(b) With all the hoopla and build-up, not many, if any, real terrorists will still be in the city. He said: "There's kind of a bad news thing here as well, though, I think. One is - this is well known, it's well telegraphed, so the odds are a lot of the terrorists are gonna, they're gonna go underground or go to root or get out of town so there's a question of how many terrorists they'll get."

(c) "And the other thing and probably most important, the thing they have to be really careful about is, as they go through Baghdad, it can't be perceived as Shi'as picking on Sunnis. So going into Sunni mosques, dealing with the Sunni population, it has to be perceived as fair and disciplined and balanced and not one part of the city pickin' on another. If it becomes a Shi'a-Sunni thing, that might do as much damage as good."

(d) It is a labor-intensive activity to go door-to-door rounding up suspected terrorists.

The interview continued, complete with the usual BIG FACT chyrons flashed on the lower third on the screen.

NAPOLITANO: OK. Colonel. Beyond being fair and balanced (a) are the troops trained? Are they capable of doing this? (b) Are they loyal to the new government?

Lower Chyron: BIG FACT: IRAQI FORCES WILL SET UP 600+ CHECKPOINTS.

CARAFANO: Yeah, I don't they would do this unless they had a fairly fair expectation that they could pull it off. You know you say 40,000 troops and you go, I mean, that's a lot of troops. But you have to think, you have to realize, for example, it takes four troops to clear a room. I mean, you go in a room.

Lower Chyron: BIG FACT: OPERATION WILL ESTABLISH A CORDON AROUND BAGHDAD

CARAFANO: There's four corners in a room. You have to have one guy look at each corner so when you start goin' through districts and settin' up checkpoints, it eats up an awful lot of troops really quick.

Lower Chyron: BIG FACT: OPERATION WILL SPREAD AROUND THE REST OF THE COUNTRY.

CARAFANO: So, 40,000 troops sound like a lot but you know they're certainly not gonna cordon off Baghdad in any way or make this airtight. I mean, so, I think it's a reasonable size operation and, gain, I don't think they'd attempt it unless they felt they can pull it off.

NAPOLITANO: When they show up at a door and bang down the door or break down the door or otherwise gain entrance to a room, how do they know who they're looking for? Do they have local intelligence? Do they have civilians with them, giving them some guidance?

Lower Chyron: BIG FACT: IRAQI FORCES WILL CONDUCT CHECKS AT HOTELS & RESTAURANTS

CARAFANO: Well, that's a really good question. They'll probably do a combination of thing [sic]. They'll do checkpoints to screen people, looking for them as they're going through parts of the city.

Lower Chyron: BIG FACT: OPERATION IS THE FIRST ANNOUNCED BY PM AL-JAAFARI

CARAFANO: They'll probably do some cordon and search, like parts of the area where they don't have really good intelligence but they suspect it, so they'll seal it off, try to keep people from coming in an out and then basically go through room by room and looking for bad things and then they'll probably have some intelligence and this is smart. If they have been collecting intelligence and they know about a bunch of people, the best thing to do is to try to get them in one fell swoop and get many of these guys simultaneously.

Lower Chyron: BIG FACT: IRAQI SECURITY FORCES PREP FOR OPERATION LIGHTNING

CARAFANO: So, you'll probably see a combination of looking for known targets, doing some searching and just doing some screening.

NAPOLITANO: Alright.

CARAFANO: The most important thing is that it's Iraqis out there doin' this.

NAPOLITANO: Right. Let's talk about Zarqawi for a minute or so. Why is it that we can't confirm if he's alive or dead? I mean Baghdad's big. It's not THAT big!

CARAFANO: Well, I mean, let's be realistic here. You know, there are Nazis that we chased for 20, 30, 40 years. When you're one person in a state, in a country that's the size of California, 25 million people, I mean, come on, it's not remarkable that you can't get definition on one individual person. But, uh, you know, the thing is, is, is, uh, I think that for Zarqawi to be effective - and this is the ironic thing here - he's got to be out there, he's got to be pluggin' away and every time he does that, he's vulnerable. So these leaders, they have to put themselves at risk and the more they put themselves at risk, the more it's likely they're gonna get caught, so I really think in the end it's almost impossible for these terrorists really to get great momentum, as long as it doesn't become perceived as a Sunni-Shi'a conflict.

NAPOLITANO: We only have about 30 seconds left, Colonel. Does it matter if Zarqawi's dead? I mean, won't his replacement be just as malevolent, just as vicious, just as awful and just as controlling as he is?

CARAFANO: Well, it will. But it'll be a tremendous psychological blow. Zarqawi's a poster child now and that's a good thing for the terrorists. But when he's killed or taken out, that's a demoralizing thing. They're not going to be able to do it and you always have a trust and confidence thing. It's very personality dependent, so when you take leaders out of these organizations, it does have an effect.

NAPOLITANO: Colonel James Carafano, thanks very much. Have a great holiday weekend, Colonel.

CARAFANO: You, too. Thanks for having me.

COMMENT

Sounds just like two upper middle class gentlemen having a nice discussion about a Memorial Day BBQ, doesn't it? Why is it, whenever I watch the mainstream media, I feel like I'm watching a rerun of the Stepford Wives?

Well-groomed talking heads with perfect teeth and correctly modulated tones deliver news of death and destruction as if they were reporting on the weather.

FOX News Channel (and others) are very fond of absolving the American government and/or military by saying: War is hell. Mistakes happen. Get over it.

If one collected the thousands of hours of war footage aired on American television, one would come to the conclusion that only Americans and their allies bleed.

In the interview above Carafano states that there's little chance that this will round up real terrorists, because they were given plenty of notice and have probably already taken off for part or parts unknown. So what is the real purpose of Operation Lightning? Perhaps it is a continutation of a tactic used by John Negroponte in Honduras, i.e., use "elite" militias within the larger indiginous force to terrorize the locals and round up, imprison, interrogate and maybe "disappear" alleged bad guys without a search warrant approved by a judge or the benefits of a lawyer to argue the case.

Ah, but who cares? It's not as if the other guys bleed or feel anything but hate, right?

For all intents and purposes, due to the bungling at the beginning of the occupation, every Iraqi has become the "enemy" and young Americans, who went to Iraq believing that they were the good guys fighting the people who attacked us on 9-11, find themselves in an intolerable situation. They now know that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11. There were no WMDs. The Iraqi Army turned out to be a ragtag paper tiger. And the "enemy" fights the same kind of war we would fight if someone invaded our country. (I refer you to the movies "Red Dawn" and "V".) Recent studies show that 15-17% of returnees need psychiatric help for a variety of post-traumatic stress disorders.

Our soldiers are surrounded by thousands of people who hate the American uniform and flag. The daily, grinding uncertainty has led some of them to degenerate into bundles of nerves, frustration and anger and to strike out against any and all Iraqis. Granted this is not true of all soldiers, but one cannot help but wonder if this war is incubating the next Timothy McVeigh.

And what about the perspective of average Iraqis, the voices we never hear over here but that are aired everywhere else in the world?

Independent reporter, Dhar Jamail filed this report from Amman, Jordan on May 27th:

"Sketchy Details"

Yesterday Iraq's Minister of Defense, Sadoun al-Dulaimi, announced that starting Saturday 40,000 Iraqi troops will seal Baghdad and begin to "hunt down insurgents and their weapons." Baghdad will be divided into two main sections, east and west, and within each section there will be smaller areas of control.

There will be at least 675 checkpoints and al-Dulaimi said this is the first phase of a security crackdown that will eventually cover all of Iraq.

Keep in mind that most of Iraq has remained in a "state of emergency" since the beginning of the siege of Fallujah, on November 8th.

"We will also impose a concrete blockade around Baghdad, like a bracelet around an arm, God willing, and God be with us in our crackdown on the terrorists' infrastructure."

Also at the press conference was Bayan Jabor, the Minister of Interior who added, “These operations will aim at turning the government's role from defensive to offensive."

This is really, really bad news.

The Iraqi security forces already have an extremely bad name throughout much of Baghdad. I've had three Iraqi doctors tell me, in different hospitals at different times, that they call the Iraqi National Guard the "dogs of the Americans."

Another close friend of mine in Baghdad, also a doctor, wrote me recently to say:

"Iraqi forces now have what they call "liwaa al deeb," which means the Wolf Brigade. This is a very American name, and is an ugly name which gives the impression of violence. In the past the Iraqi troops held names of some famous Muslim and Arabic symbols which were more accepted. Anyway, the name wouldn’t matter if their behavior was straigh...they now practice a kind of state sponsored terrorism."

He went on to give an example of their not-so-straight behavior...

"Eyewitnesses in Al-Saydia area to the south of Baghdad told me that recently when a car bomb detonated and destroyed the area nearby, people were astonished to see the so-called police looting a destroyed mobile phone store that was nearby! The police now are a bunch of thieves. Many of then are already criminals who were released from Abu Ghraib prison before the war."

When I was in Baghdad in January, I was shot at by Iraqi Police on two different occasions simply because our car drove too close to them."

Hence, out of concern for his family, Abu Talat has returned to Baghdad. He fears that his two youngest sons will be detained simply because they are of "military age," according to the US military.

Even now in Haditha, where the US military is engaged in an operation called "Operation New Market," (where do they get these names?) somewhat similar to the recent attack on Al-Qa'im, where around 1,000 troops are raiding homes. They have set up sniper positions, and according to an Iraqi doctor I spoke with today that has colleagues in Haditha, "The Americans are detaining so many people there, any man between the ages of 16 and 25 years is being immediately detained without question."

So Abu Talat is back into the fire ... needless to say, I support his decision to go back to look after his family, but not without deep concern and sadness.

"What else can I do, habibi," he asks me while holding up his hands today.

So we say goodbye yet again, which in this situation is always a difficult thing to do. Will I see him again? Will his family be alright? What if ...?

Life in occupied Iraq. On any given day, anything can happen. It's a numbers game.

He or any of my other friends there could end up like the three civilians who were shot dead by US soldiers yesterday while they were traveling in a minibus in al-Dora, Baghdad.

Lieutenant Jamie Davis, a spokesman for the US military, said of the slaughter, "The details are sketchy and we don’t know who was involved."

According to AFP, the bus driver who survived the incident said US troops opened fire after he pulled over to get out of their way."

Now with over 675 checkpoints to be manned by the "dogs of the Americans," we'll all have to get used to countless more civilian deaths where "the details are sketchy."

For more about Negroponte and Honduras, here is an excerpt from Democracy Now!:

George Bush has appointed a diplomat infamous for supporting right-wing death squads in Central America during the 1980s to succeed Paul Bremer as the top US official in Iraq. UN Ambassador John Negroponte is set to take over what will be the largest US embassy in the world, that in Baghdad.

******

According to a four-part series in the Baltimore Sun, in 1982 alone the Honduran press ran 318 stories of murders and kidnappings by the Honduran military. In a 1995 series, Sun reporters Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson detailed the activities of a secret CIA-trained Honduran army unit, Battalion 316, that used "shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves." In 1994, Honduras's National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights reported that it was officially admitted that 179 civilians were still missing.

Former official Rick Chidester, who served under Negroponte, says he was ordered to remove all mention of torture and executions from the draft of his 1982 report on the human rights situation in Honduras. During Negroponte's tenure, US military aid to Honduras skyrocketed from $3.9 million to over $77 million. Much of this went to ensure the Honduran army's loyalty in the battle against popular movements throughout Central America.

******

JIM PAUL: Well, it's pretty sad that they take this approach. At the time when he was nominated to be the U.N. Ambassador, it was apparently going to be a fairly robust discussion of his past in Honduras. If the Democrats don't want to discuss it, it's probably because they're a little nervous about raising this whole issue and seeming to be opposed to counter-insurgency at a time when some of them feel and evidently the Kerry campaign feels it's unpatriotic not to be in favor of this kind of a thing.

AMY GOODMAN: And this whole issue of the Battalion 316 in Honduras that used shock and suffocation and terrorism devices and prisoners were kept naked and when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves. In 1994, the Commission for Protection of Human Rights reported it was officially admitted that 179 civilians were still missing. Again, this, the battalion in the 1980's that earned John Negroponte a reputation as Ambassador in Honduras as a supporter of widespread human rights abuses and terror. As Ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte playing a key role in the U.S. aid to the Contra death squads in Nicaragua and shoring up the brutal military dictatorship in Honduras. Your response.

JIM PAUL: Well, it's hard to say any more, Amy. You pictured a person who is a pretty nasty character.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, diplomats alleging that the Embassy’s annual human rights reports made Honduras sound more like Norway than Argentina, this when Negroponte was in charge. Now, he will be in charge of the largest embassy in the world, with some 3,000 U.S. people, personnel, in Iraq, including some 500 CIA officers.

JIM PAUL: Well, they certainly intend to run Iraq out of that Embassy, and the U.S. forces are going to stay there. There's going to be whatever -- 120,000 or more U.S. troops in occupation. The U.S. military commanders are going to be in charge of the Iraqi military and Iraqi police. The U.S. has to sign off on any media that are licensed and so on. This is going to be the pro-consul in a way, very similar to Bremer's role that we have seen up to this point. I don't think that Negroponte is the person to bring democracy to Iraq.

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