U.S. ignored warnings about Shiite militias


McClatchy Newspapers

Iraq’s first democratically elected prime minister said this week that he warned U.S. officials two years ago that Shiite Muslim militias were infiltrating the country’s security services and that they would become entrenched in Iraqi society if they weren’t stopped.

“But with deep remorse the friends did not help us,” said Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who became Iraq’s prime minister after elections on Jan. 30, 2005. “America didn’t help us.”

Al-Jaafari’s recollection of his meetings with U.S. officials during his tenure as prime minister raises more questions about the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq’s sectarian violence can be traced to the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

President Bush, in announcing on Jan. 10 that he was ordering 21,500 additional American troops to Iraq, said that events in the country had been proceeding smoothly in 2005 and that it was only after the Samarra bombing that Shiites began targeting Sunnis in revenge attacks.

But U.S. diplomats, Iraqi politicians, U.S. intelligence analysts and journalists had reported throughout 2005 that Shiite militia attacks on Sunnis were increasing and that the militias had infiltrated the security forces.

Al-Jaafari, well known for indirect and philosophical speech, was uncharacteristically frank in an interview on Sunday. He said that Shiite militias, which are accused of killing, torturing and kidnapping Sunnis, had infiltrated the security forces long before the Samarra bombing. U.S. officials ignored his efforts to get them to do something about it, he said.

“Since the beginning two years ago I had this vision, ” he said. “I was ambitious that the ministers of interior, defense and security were not connected to movements that have militias. That was the first mistake.”

Al-Jaafari said that in meetings held twice a week in his office, he’d urged coalition forces to take action against the militias. In attendance, he said, was Army Gen. George Casey, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, the U.S. ambassador, the British ambassador and a British general.

Al-Jaafari didn’t name any officials other than Casey. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005 was John Negroponte, whose nomination as deputy secretary of state is being considered by the U.S. Senate. Negroponte didn’t respond to a request for comment; an aide who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the subject said Negroponte left Iraq on March 14, 2005.

The current U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, took up his post on June 21, 2005.

Al-Jaafari said he asked the officials to force police and army recruits to pledge loyalty to the government and to consider a military strike against the militias while they were still isolated from the public.

“They were not cooperating with us,” al-Jaafari said. “They weren’t helping us apply the plan.”

Of particular concern was the Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraq’s largest Shiite political party. Badr members heavily infiltrated the Ministry of Interior during al-Jaafari’s rein and were accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing Sunnis. At that time the ministry was led by Bayan Jabr, a SCIRI member who’s now the finance minister. SCIRI and al-Jaafari’s Islamic Dawa Party are political rivals.

A former al-Jaafari aide, Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, said he believed that U.S. officials didn’t take action because they didn’t want to get involved in a political dispute between Dawa and SCIRI.

But he said U.S. officials, including Negroponte and the then-No. 2 U.S. diplomat in Iraq, Jim Jeffries, had to have been aware of the rising sectarian violence. When U.S. soldiers stormed an Interior Ministry bunker on Nov. 15, 2005, and found 173 malnourished and abused prisoners, most of them Sunnis, al-Kadhimi said he brought the subject up again with U.S. officials.

“I said, `How many times did we warn you?'” al-Kadhimi said.

Bush most recently cited the Samarra bombing in an interview Monday on National Public Radio. He accused Sunnis of being responsible for the violence in Iraq.

“We can debate terms, but what can’t be debated is the fact that there – Iraq is violent, and the violence is caused by Sunni Arabs like al-Qaida, who have made it clear that they want to create chaos and drive the United States out so they can have safe haven, and then they could launch attacks against America,” Bush said. “No question the attack on the Golden Mosque of Samarra, which is a Shia holy site, caused Shia extremists to retaliate.”

© 2007 McClatchy Washington Bureau and wire service sources