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ICG Risk Blog - [ Does Arabic have a word for Desaparecido? French and Spanish does. ]

Does Arabic have a word for Desaparecido? French and Spanish does.

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When you are familiar with the desaparecidos ("The Disappeared") populating the miniature killing fields of Guatemala and Salvador (often times a preexisting garbage dump), when you as a gringo in the bush fear arrest by the military as much as kidnapping by the guerillas, when the hapless, innocent Indios were killed by the military by day and by the guerillas by night...

Having been closer than most to fruits of a desaparecido effort, I can say that it is vicious, capricious, replete with collateral damage to innocents, instills fear while moderating behavior, creates blowback of some magnitude at a later date, but works in the short-term. Could be Plan B, and not just for Iraq. I've already forecast a return to such programs in Central America to deal with the Maras (gangs), Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Mara 18:

the law enforcement tools on offer mimic that of terrorism, covert and overt military force, without the programs that address the social and economic forces that create the draw to gangs. The problem is already so great in Central America that states are reviving conventional military strength and counterinsurgency strategies along with extralegal paramilitary and vigilante enforcement, while adopting zero-tolerance laws that bypass rules of due process. Mechanisms once directed at leftists and political dissidents are now directed at gang members.

Enter Iraq. With painful realism settling in among senior civilian and military ranks that recent actions against Fallujah's insurgents have merely dispersed the intended targets while continuing to enrage ordinary Iraqis, there is active debate on resuscitating "the Salvador option," the training and arming of paramilitaries operating in concert with US spec ops to liquidate insurgents, jihadists, their enablers and facilitators. One proposal sends "Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, [although current thinking] is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in [Syria while] activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries."

I find discussions of "whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations" for covert interrogation to be moot as if such a program mimics its predecessors, once gone, forever gone whether one is interrogated or not. Liquidation squads would be controversial only to outside observers. Were insurgents/Baathists to be candid, I submit that they would consider it a long overdue response even though they would be its targets. Welcome to symmetry in asymmetrical warfare.

Compared to some 100,000 gang members, Iraq is manageable only if one is sufficiently ruthless, can operate beyond public scrutiny, and employ surrogates so as to claim plausible denial. The Baathist-insurgent marriage of convenience is now so large, so well armed, that their backlash would be phenomenal:

[number of gunmen in Iraq that] carry out terrorist actions against the citizens and are outlaws. Their number in all parts of Iraq is between 20,000 and 30,000 and they are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them. But they do not provide them with any material or logistical help. For example, they do not report their activities if they have the information. [gunmen are] Ba'thist remnants, hard-line extremists, and others. If 20 percent [of an estimated 2 million Ba'th Party members are presently involved in armed operations] then their number is large and all of them are members of organizations and have weapons. A large number of people are working with the Ba'thists to earn a livelihood after finding themselves without jobs, especially those who were in the former Iraqi army.

The majority of Iraqis are what I call insurgent-neutral, neither aiding or providing logistical support, nor alerting the authorities. A desaparecido program would instill fear of aiding the insurgency:

The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.

Running it as a covert op under a US presidential finding sidesteps nettlesome oversight and insulates the military from legal peril. No surprise that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi "is said to be among the most forthright proponents of the Salvador option." I am more curious as to, say, Turkish interest in seeing Kurds so trained, the ramp-up time to force maturity and preemptive Insurgent/Ba'athist counterstrikes. There will be no rear area and no noncombatants.

Part 11

‘The Salvador Option’
By Michael Hirsh and John Barry
Newsweek
Jan 8,
Updated: 10 Jan, 2005

Iraqi Intelligence Service Chief Interviewed on Terrorism, Related Issues
AL-SHARQ AL-AWSAT
Interview with Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq's National Intelligence Service, 4 January
(FBIS Translated Text) Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Gordon Housworth



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