Mar. 4, 2005 – After experiencing little success recruiting and retaining soldiers in Iraqâ€™s formal military units and security forces, the US military has resorted to hiring a private, homegrown armed force to track and capture members of the Iraqi resistance, reports Reuters.
In a program that resembles rumored plans to implement what has been dubbed "the Salvador option" in Iraq, the establishment of a hardline indigenous paramilitary force may indicate the first step toward a more aggressive counterinsurgency campaign modeled in part after the notorious "death squad" campaign used to suppress a popular revolution in El Salvador during the 1980s.
In January, US Marines established the Iraqi Freedom Guard, a unit of 61 men, each paid $400 monthly to fight, capture and interrogate suspected rebels in Iraqâ€™s sprawling Al-Anbar province, which includes the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
Private militias operating outside the authority of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense are illegal under Iraqâ€™s US-imposed interim constitution. Article 27(b) of Iraqâ€™s Temporary Administrative Law reads, "Armed forces and militias not under the command structure of the Iraqi Transitional Government are prohibited, except as provided by federal law."
But Marine commanders deny that the Freedom Guard constitutes such an entity. Colonel Craig Tucker, regimental commander of the 7th Marines, told Reuters the Iraqi force is comparable to the numerous American security contractors, such as Blackwell Corporation, working in Iraq for the military and US government officials.
Concerns that the US might establish an Iraqi paramilitary force to more effectively pursue terrorists and resistance fighters first emerged early this year when Newsweek reported that a "senior military officer" said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials were seriously considering implementation of a strategy like the one credited with the crushing of El Salvadorâ€™s FMLN guerilla movement.
Called "the Salvador option," little is known of what US military planners had in mind for an Iraqi version of the notorious, US-backed Central American death squads. In El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua, as well as other countries across Latin America, noncombatants and nonviolent activists were often killed or "disappeared" by CIA-supported paramilitary forces operating among the civilian population.
The Iraqi Freedom Guardâ€™s commanding officer, Monir Captain, is reportedly a 20-year-old Iraqi with no previous military training who speaks good English. During a mission last week, Captain said he is fighting to protect his fellow Iraqis. "Life is starting to get better in Baghdad, and I feel that it's because of me and my guys, fighting here in the desert, so they can live in peace," he told Reuters.