Iraq’s New Death Squad

The Nation Magazine, June 22nd 2009Shane Bauer, The Nation: The Iraq Special Operations Forces (ISOF) is probably the largest special forces outfit ever built by the United States, and it is free of many of the controls that most governments employ to rein in such lethal forces. The project started in the deserts of Jordan just after the Americans took Baghdad in April 2003. There, the Army’s Special Forces, or Green Berets, trained mostly 18-year-old Iraqis with no prior military experience. The resulting brigade was a Green Beret’s dream come true: a deadly, elite, covert unit, fully fitted with American equipment, that would operate for years under US command and be unaccountable to Iraqi ministries and the normal political process.

“All these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day,” laughs retired Lt. Col. Roger Carstens. “These guys are shit hot. They are just as good as we are. We trained ‘em. They are just like us. They use the same weapons. They walk like Americans.”

Although the force is officially controlled by the Iraqi government, popular perception in Baghdad is that the ISOF — the dirty brigade — is a covert, all-Iraqi branch of the US military. That reading isn’t far from the truth. The US Special Forces are still closely involved with every level of the ISOF, from planning and carrying out missions to deciding tactics and creating policy. According to Brig. Gen. Simeon Trombitas, commander of the Iraq National Counter-Terror Force Transition Team, part of the multinational command responsible for turning control of the ISOF over to the Iraqi government, the US Special Forces continue to “have advisers at every level of the chain of command.”

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