The United States launched on November 12, 2003 (that is, eight months after launching its attack against Iraq without the UN’s approval) a large-scale counterinsurgent offensive in Iraq aiming at eliminating the Iraqi resistance.

This military operation, called “Iron Hammer”, constitutes, according to a communiqué of the Central Command, «a regular operation to target enemy operating areas, deny the enemy opportunity to store weapons that would be used against coalition forces and the citizens of Baghdad, and destroy forces conducting attacks with mortars against Baghdad».

During the night of November 12th, a truck suspect of having participated in one of these attacks was chased by US vehicles with the assistance of helicopters. An Apache AH-64 helicopter destroyed the truck. Shortly after that, on the same night, an abandoned building, allegedly being used as a secret base for members of the Iraqi guerrilla, was also destroyed. During the following days, the bombings, arrests and destruction of “insurgents’ refuges” increased.

In general, media [1] presented the operation - whose magnitude clearly surpassed the peace-keeping framework - as a necessary response to the increase of attacks by the Iraqi resistance against coalition forces.

It is true that the context then favors an analysis of this kind: on November 11, the commander of the US forces in Iraq, General Ricardo Sánchez, declared that his troops would not hesitate to resort to its full fire capacity to put an end to the deadly guerrilla that cost him 153 men in six months [2].

On November 12, the day the offensive began, a truck loaded with explosives, exploded in front of the headquarters of the Italian paramilitary police forces leaving 18 Italian and eight Iraqis dead. The reports from the American army immediately reflected the direct effectiveness of operation “iron hammer”: on November 25, General John Abizaid, heading the US Central Command, declared that the recent US offensive had reduced to the attacks against his men to a half in less than two weeks [3].

After the “Iron Hammer”, “Low Intensity Conflict”

Operation “Iron Hammer” was not, however, an improvised action of the US General Staff to face the unexpected resistance from the Iraqi people. On the contrary, it was part of a military strategy that Washington knows very well: a “low intensity conflict”.

In 2001, the Rand Corporation published the records of the colloquium “Ready for the Apocalypse”, held in March 2001 and which dealt with combat techniques in urban areas. Jordan, Israeli and British experts as well as Viet Nam vets participated in this event for the Marines.

The content of the document indicates a return to the theories elaborated during the colonial wars of the 1950s and 1960s and the wars against “disloyal civilian populations”. Participants said that in order to reduce military casualties it is necessary to eliminate restrictions in combats and that the particularly atrocious nature of these operations demanded a previous fitting-out for the marines [4] .

The doctrine of “low intensity conflict” is destined to designing strategies to counteract guerrilla operations and they were first used in Algeria, after an initiative by Paul Aussaresses, a stay-behind member. In October 2002, Aussaresses explained during the program “60 Minutes”, of the CBS television network, that torture was necessary in Algeria as it allowed saving lives threatened by terrorist groups [5], an illustrative declaration of the work that is being carried out in the semantic field as resistance movements are being called “terrorists”, in Algeria, Viet Nam, Palestine or, like today, in Iraq.

We have to recall that ten years before, Paul Aussaresses had worked as an instructor in Fort Bragg (United States) to teach his methods to US officers - a similar technique to that one which was taught by French military to their Argentinean colleagues as part of the Condor Operation [6] .

According to a proposal for a resolution regarding the creation of a French parliamentary commission to investigate the issue - a proposal written by parliament members Noel Mamere, Martine Billard and Yves Cochet in September 2003 -, General Aussaresses voluntarily recognized «to have used torture and techniques of the battle of Algiers to Brazilian military when he was a military attaché of the French Embassy in Brazil, from 1973 to 1975». [7].

Consequently, when planning the offensive against Iraq, the neo-conservatives in Washington were anticipating the implementation of these methods. The close relation with the Phoenix program [8] , implemented in Viet Nam, was openly recognized by Max Boot, a “neocon” (neoconservative, US extreme right) journalist and member of the Council on Foreign Relations when, in an article published in the New York Times, he called on the US General Staff to «develop a policy similar to that of Phoenix operation in Viet Nam, a policy that had some excesses but also (had) success». [9].

To Act in Iraq Like in the Palestinian Occupied Territories

How does this doctrine become evident in Iraq? The air raids of the first days against targets allegedly linked to the resistance quickly were replaced by a policy of complete control of the Iraqi territory and disproportionate reprisals that have nothing to do with the Geneva conventions about rights in times of war.

Thus, since December 2003, there was an increase of closure of villages with wire fences, arrests of relatives of resistance members to use them in possible exchanges and, in some cases, the destruction of houses belonging to Iraqis linked to attacks.

Oddly enough, this policy matches that of Israel in the Palestinian occupied territories, in Gaza and in the West Bank. Several articles in US and British media mentioned courses for US officials in Israel where they learned the basics of counterinsurgency tactics.

In July 2003, brigadier general Michael Vane mentioned, in a letter published in the Army Magazine, cooperation with Israel on that field. According to two anonymous military sources cited by an article in The Guardian, the Israeli army sent specialists on urban guerrilla to Fort Bragg, and Israeli military “advisors” also arrived in Iraq to analyze the situation [10].

US senior officials [11] denied this information. According to a former official of the US intelligence services, anonymously quoted by The Guardian, the operations currently taking place in Iraq «is practically a program for killing. That is the basic concept over there. It is a new team of hunters-killers».

According to him, this sudden change of tactics and the strengthening of cooperation with Israel can only make the already explosive situation in the Middle East worse.

In September 2003, an article in the Jerusalem Post revealed the already increasing influence of Israeli methods in the US military practice. It revealed that the Pentagon had asked the Israeli army for a translation of their own training program that teaches soldiers of the Tsahal (Jewish Army) on how to behave in the occupied territories.

Clearly, the purpose was to implement those methods in Iraq. Furthermore, it seems that joint operations already took place in Iraq like the killing of the Shiite leader al-Hakim on August 7, 2003. According to an article of the Egyptian weekly Al Osboa, this attack - which was immediately attributed to the Sunni community - may have been the work of Mossad (Israeli secret service) agents who later left Iraq thanks to the cooperation of the US Central Command.

The cooperation between the US army and the Tsahal is only, by the way, an open secret. When Washington announced the reduction of bank guarantees promised to Israel, the Jerusalem Post noted that, in effect, the US assistance was a reward for Israel’s help in the preparation of the war against Iraq.

Boykin and the Special Forces

Lieutenant General Boykin

In Iraq, the large amount of special operations undertaken - a task that traditionally involves Special Forces, whose main defender is Donald Rumsfeld - has led to the creation of a unit called Task Force 121.

The main purpose of this unit, that is comprised of Delta Force, Navy Seals and paramilitary elements of the CIA, is the neutralization of «Baasist insurgents, capturing and killing them». [12].

According to the article by Seymor M. Hersh published in the US daily New Yorker, the handing of this mission to the Special Forces was a victory for Donald Rumsfeld, who has been fighting for two years so that the US General Staff accepts the doctrine of “human hunting” that he himself develops simultaneously in public speeches and in the Pentagon’s internal communications.

Rumsfeld usually complained that the Army was not trained and equipped to carry out such “human hunting”, a concept that can be interpreted as clandestine operations for killing which currently depend, in an explicit way, of a special section of the US Army.

One of the main architects of the creation of this unit is Stephan Cambone, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Affairs. Cambone was already the office director of the commission presided over by Donald Rumsfeld in 1998 and who had affirmed that the United States could be a target of ballistic missiles.

He was also a fierce supporter of the US intelligence services as to the evaluation they did of the Iraqi threat and he echoed the information - later denied - that a truck allegedly used as a lab to produce chemical weapons had been found in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In the operational field, it is Lieutenant General William Jerry Boykin, military assistant to Stephan Cambone, who is in charge of planning the offensive of the Special Forces.

William Boykin became an extremely controversial personality after he was filmed in a Christian congregation in Oregon linking the Islamic world with Satan and declaring that: «Satan wants to destroy this nation; he wants to destroy us as a nation and wants to destroy us as a Christian army». According to him, President George W. Bush was not “elected” but “appointed by God”.

His military past is also controversial as he commanded the US forces in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, during the military operation that took the lives of 18 American soldiers in 1993.

His nomination as commander of clandestine operations in Iraq seems to indicate, therefore, that the Pentagon is not too much concerned about casualties. William Boykin is also regarded, in the US intelligence service, as the one responsible for the killing of drug trafficker Pablo Escobar that was officially attributed to the Colombian police.

A Possible Military Victory, an Inevitable Political Defeat

It is hard not to be horrified by this new strategy of confrontation and use of violence chosen by the United States - a strategy often used in the past generally with the same results in Algeria or Viet Nam: a military victory accompanied by a political failure.

The “no failure” of some of these operations in South America or Israel do not allow us to imagine, however, a happy ending for the Iraqi situation. The “Iron Hammer” operation, named after a Nazi operation against Soviet power plants during World War II, at least allows revealing the real nature of the US military presence in Iraq: it is, in effect, a long-lasting and colonial domination.

In this context, it is difficult to imagine that the so much promised transference of sovereignty to the Iraqis may occur in the near future.

[1“U.S. Forces Launch Operation Iron Hammer”, FOX News, November 13, 2003. “U.S. assaults in Baghdad continue”, CNN, November 13, 2003. “La volte-face de Bush” by Philippe Coste, L’Express, November 20, 2003.

[2“Iraq - Sanchez menace de «mettre le paquet» contre la guérilla », Reuters, November 12, 2003

[3“Rockets Fired at US HQ in the Heart of Baghdad”, by Naseer Al-Nahr, Asharq Al-Awsat, published in Arab News, November 26, 2003

[4“Sources ouvertes - Prêts pour l’Apocalypse”, Réseau Voltaire, October 21, 2002

[5«Un élargissement des oppositions entre les croyances», Open International Forums, October 14, 2002

[6Condor Operation consisted in the organization, during the 1970s, of a network to eliminate opposition leaders in Latin America and it included Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. The police and military services in those countries exchanged information with the others and carried out summary executions on behalf of the “member” countries

[7« Proposition de résolution tendant à la création d’une commission d’enquête sur le rôle de la France dans le soutien aux régimes militaires d’Amérique latine entre 1973 et 1984.» [Proposal of resolution for the creation of an investigation commission on the role of France in supporting the military regimes of Latin America between 1973 and 1984], National Assembly of France, September 10, 2003

[8The Phoenix Program was a counterinsurgency program implemented in Viet Nam. As part of that program, US Special Forces were taken to capture and kill Vietnamese suspects of being guerrilla members. These operations were carried out following information from officials of the army of South Viet Nam. According to statistics gathered by South-Vietnamese authorities, more than 40,000 people were victims of the Phoenix program between 1968 and 1972. The director of the program, William E. Colby, recognized before Congress the horrendous excesses of the program. William E. Colby later became CIA Director.

[9«Les leçons d’un bourbier», Open International Forums, November 17, 2003

[10“Israel Trains US Assassination Squads in Iraq”, The Guardian, December 9, 2003

[11“Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns”, by Dexter Filkins, New York Times, December 7, 2003.

[12“Moving Targets”, by Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, December 15, 2003