Gangs of Iraq
Marcela Gaviria and Martin Smith
ANNOUNCER: This program contains edited language and graphic imagery. Viewer discretion is advised.
ROBERT MacNEIL, Host: I'm Robert MacNeil. Welcome to America at a Crossroads and a special FRONTLINE report.
ANNOUNCER: In a divided country, America set out to train Iraqi forces.
NIR ROSEN, Author and Journalist: They were loyal to Moqtada al Sadr, to Abdul Aziz Hakim, but not to the Iraqi state and not to anybody in the Green Zone.
ANNOUNCER: Now Iraq is even more divided.
DEXTER FILKINS, New York Times Baghdad Bureau, 2003-06: We started hearing reports of death squads, kidnapping rings, extrajudicial killings.
ANNOUNCER: And less secure.
MATT SHERMAN, Ministry of Interior Adviser, 2003-05: My fear is that what we're doing is equipping Iraqis for civil war.
ANNOUNCER: Next, correspondent Martin Smith investigates Gangs of Iraq.
ROBERT MacNEIL: For our third look at Iraq, we come to the situation at the end of the year that forced President Bush to change his strategy and the Congress to become far more skeptical about the war. Violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites and their sectarian militias we out of control. Neighborhoods were being ethnically cleansed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis forced from their homes, a million-and-a-half fleeing to neighboring countries.
Large majorities of Iraqis and increasingly voices in Congress wanted a timetable for American troops to leave. The Iraq Study Group called the situation "grave and deteriorating, a slide into chaos." It was in this climate, as President Bush announced his troop surge, that FRONTLINE producer Marcela Gaviria and correspondent Martin Smith reported from Baghdad.
A word of warning. This film contains very graphic images of death and violence.
RADIO: Alpha, this is Bravo. Over.
RADIO: Bravo, Charlie. Channel check.
RADIO: Bravo, we deliver, Charlie.
MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent: [voice-over] Adhamiyah, Baghdad. Every morning in this Sunni neighborhood, the dead tell their stories.
RADIO: Bravo, Charlie, this is Alpha. We found a dead body. Over.
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON, U.S. Army, Police Adviser: He was shot. There was one entrance wound into his neck. I think it exited out of his head. He was dumped in the trash, and that's how we found him.
SOLDIER: See his face?
SOLDIER: Pretty nasty, huh.
SOLDIER: That sucks.
MARTIN SMITH: Fifteen to thirty bodies show up on Baghdad's streets every day. This man was tortured and mutilated before he was killed.
SOLDIER: He has no eyes. His ears have been cut off. Nose been cut off. Tore off part of his skin. No ID.
SOLDIER: Anybody got a knife?
MARTIN SMITH: Soldiers document the killing and try to investigate, but few cases are ever solved.
SOLDIER: First one I've seen with no face on it.
SOLDIER: He's gone.
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON: He's already started the processing?
SOLDIER: Blood's still fresh. He's got two shots to his head.
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON: I'm sick of seeing this [deleted], man. I'm done seeing this.
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] Do you see a lot of this?
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON: Yes. Yes.
MARTIN SMITH: How often do you find bodies?
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON: Every day, every other day. It's routine.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] In the fall of 2006, FRONTLINE spent two months in Iraq.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH, U.S. Army, Police Adviser: Right now, Adhamiyah is pretty hot. We got sniper threats. We got IED threats, EFP threats.
MARTIN SMITH: We embedded with advisory teams like this one.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: Today they have found three bodies in Adhamiyah, three dead bodies, which is totally normal.
MARTIN SMITH: These soldiers are working to train Iraqi police. Standing up Iraqi forces, President Bush says, is a centerpiece of America's strategy. It is also a constant struggle.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: And they all know it's Thanksgiving. They know it's Thanksgiving and they're going to hit us, all right? We'll just hope it's grenades, some small arms fire, stuff that we can handle, all right?
MARTIN SMITH: On this day, we're going back into Adhamiyah, this time to check up on a police station.
SOLDIER: All right, we're rolling.
SOLDIER: Let's get out of here.
SOLDIER: It's Thanksgiving. What could possibly happen? [laughter]
RADIO: VBID's just happened!
MARTIN SMITH: On the way, Sgt. David Faircloth gets a radio call about a car bombing in nearby Sadr City.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: We got a VBIED [Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device] detonation. We're going to go to it. What I want you to do is take a right to the station. You can turn right, like, right now.
We're going to go inside. We're going to grab some IPs [Iraqi Police]. We're going to out to that VBIED detonation and see what the injuries and damages are.
MARTIN SMITH: But when we arrive, the station is empty.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: Salman is Who's in charge?
MAN IN POLICE STATION: Kader Salman! He out.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: Where? Where did he go?
TRANSLATOR: Patrolling or in his house.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: Why is the place so empty? How come nobody can [deleted] tell me if anybody's here? What the hell is going on?
SOLDIER: Captain Salan's not even here.
SOLDIER: There is nobody here -- the commander, Fouad, nobody. Nobody.
MARTIN SMITH: While the Americans are waiting for some police to show up, they learn that there has been more than one blast in Sadr City.
SOLDIER: Four VBIEDs in Sadr City. Did you hear that?
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: That's what they wanted to respond to, but I'm not going into Sadr City with no IPs.
MARTIN SMITH: In Sadr City, chaos. Sunni insurgents have struck with a string of coordinated bombings. Over 200 Shia are killed. It is the most deadly sectarian attack of the war.
CAPT. FOUAD: Hello, Faircloth.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: Hello, Saidy.
MARTIN SMITH: Back at the police station, the commander arrives. For his protection and that of other policemen, we've been asked to obscure some faces.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: How you doing?
Capt. FOUAD: Alaikum Salam.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: How you been?
Capt. FOUAD: Fine, fine.
MARTIN SMITH: They go inside to talk, but there is no electricity.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: Do you want to turn the generator on not?
IRAQI POLICEMAN: [subtitles] The electricity was on this morning but went off.
Capt. FOUAD: [subtitles] Go turn the generator on.
[sound of explosion]
SOLDIER: Where at, Craig? Inside Adhamiyah?
MARTIN SMITH: Mortars are flying towards us from Sadr City to avenge the attack. Several land nearby.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: Like I told him -- that's getting close.
SOLDIER: They're shooting back over here.
SOLDIER: That's what it is.
SOLDIER: That's what I just told my guys. I said they're shooting over our heads right now.
SOLDIER: It's retaliation.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: What is going on?
TRANSLATOR: I'm going to tell you something. I think something bad is going to happen here.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: All right. If he's leaving, we're leaving. He's leaving for a reason. We're getting the hell out of here.
Sgt. DAVID FAIRCLOTH: [on the radio] The deputy commander has left the station. He left pretty fast, in a hurry. He gave some excuse why he wanted to leave. We have very minimal IPs at this station right now. I am recommending we cancel this combined patrol and the 1-4 element be back en route to Camp Shield.
MARTIN SMITH: Bombings of Shia are routine. So are revenge attacks on Sunnis. On this day, Iraq's police were powerless to stop the killing.
The training and equipping of the Iraqi Army has been another costly experiment for the Americans, with mixed results.
SOLDIER: Lieutenant Vargo's going to -- wants to give you a patrol brief where he wants to go and the route he wants you to take.
MARTIN SMITH: We patrolled with the Iraqi army in a Shi'ite neighborhood in Yusufiyah, a town south of Baghdad. This unit is rated Level 3, or in military jargon, "partially capable." Like the police, the army has been unable to stop Sunni insurgent attacks. The people here have turned instead to a Shi'ite militia for protection.
[Graffiti on wall: "This area is protected by the Mehdi Army"]
SOLDIER: This is where the marketplace car bomb went off.
MARTIN SMITH: There have been six bombings in the last month.
[on camera] Jesus! That's a hell of a bomb.
[voice-over] And there are no policemen. The police station was destroyed by another insurgent bomb.
[on camera] This was a new building?
SOLDIER: Yes, sir. It was built -- I mean, about two days before it was scheduled to open, it was destroyed.
MARTIN SMITH: What happened to the police after the bombing?
SOLDIER: To the best of my understanding from stories, that after the bombing the police forces in the area were reassigned or left the area to go to other places around the area.
MARTIN SMITH: So they gave up.
SOLDIER: Gave up or were reassigned, sir. Yes.
MARTIN SMITH: Do you know how much they spent on it?
SOLDIER: I don't, sir. Probably more than I make in a year.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] More than 6,000 Iraqi policemen and soldiers have been killed in the last four years. Standing up Iraq's security forces in the midst of a civil war has been difficult, at best. The effort began in earnest back in November 2003, when the Coalition opened a major police training center in neighboring Jordan. Thousands of recruits from all over Iraq were flown in, equipped and given an eight-week crash course.
There were problems right from the beginning.
MICHAEL R. GORDON, The New York Times: The emphasis in the American training program has been on force generation. It's been on producing a lot of guys very quickly. So I think it was too much of an emphasis on quantity over quality.
TRAINER: When you see a hazard, OK, you're going to notify the rest of the patrol. You're going to tell your colleagues that there's a problem.
ROBERT PERITO, Police Training Expert: The question was, who were these people? There was very little vetting that went on, not the sort of vetting that took place in previous operations, where a real effort was made to find out who people were.
MARTIN SMITH: Many of the recruits were more loyal to local sheikhs and clerics than to a new Iraq.
TRANSLATOR: How many of you are from Kut?
Lt. Gen. PETER CHIARELLI, Cmdr. Multi-National Corps, 2006: Because of the way they were brought on board, many of them came from the same part of the country, some of them from the same town, the same province, and some of them from the same sect. And some of them were, in fact, members of different militias.
MARTIN SMITH: The new Iraqi army faced similar issues. American officials had completely dissolved Saddam's army, so they were starting from scratch. Still, the Pentagon claimed progress.
DONALD RUMSFELD, Defense Secretary: [October 30, 2003] Indeed, that progress has been so swift that Iraq is now the second largest of the security forces in the Coalition. It will not be long before they will outnumber all Coalition forces combined.
MARTIN SMITH: But the question was, how would this swiftly assembled force perform in battle? The first test came in April 2004. That month, American marines went in to clean out the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah. Iraqi soldiers assigned to the mission refused to fight.
[on camera] In other words, they said, "We're not going to fight our own."
Maj. Gen. PAUL EATON, (Ret.) Cmdr. Army Training, 2003-04: Correct. You had soldiers say, "I thought you told us that we were going to defend from enemies from without. Now you're sending us to attack Fallujah." And at that point, the American major on the ground said, "Well, we're going to abort the mission. Go back to your barracks."
MARTIN SMITH: That same month, the young anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr ordered his militia, the Mehdi Army, into battle.
MILITIAMAN: [subtitles] No, no America!
Amb. L. PAUL BREMER, Coalition Provisional Authority, 2003-04: Moqtada chose this time to rise up, as well, and attack American forces, Polish forces, Spanish forces in Najaf. He took over a provincial capital. He attacked the Coalition in Hilla. He attacked Karbala. And so we had, in effect, two crises at the same time.
MARTIN SMITH: Again, Iraqi forces crumbled.
Lt. Gen. PETER CHIARELLI: When the fighting started, those Iraqi battalions just melted away down to 100 or less than 100 soldiers per battalion. Basically, they returned home, and for the most part, refused to take part in any of the fighting.
MARTIN SMITH: The Iraqi police didn't perform any better.
MATT SHERMAN, Ministry of Interior Adviser, 2003-05: The police disappeared. They deserted. They had never been confronted with that sort of violence. It was never something that they were trained to deal with. So as a result, they simply melted into the population.
MARTIN SMITH: Some policemen even switched sides and joined the Mehdi Army.
CROWD: Yes! Yes to Moqtada!
Gen. JOHN ABIZAID, Cmdr., U.S. Central Command: [press conference] Clearly, we know that some of the police did not stay with their posts, and that in some cases, with Sadr's militias in particular, that there were some defections.
Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: It was a very serious problem because we found that these forces that we had been working with were not prepared to work with us to restore order.
MARTIN SMITH: The Coalition was forced to redeploy troops to areas south of Baghdad.
DAN SENOR, Coalition Provisional Authority: [press conference April 17, 2004] We want the rule of law to prevail in Iraq. There is no room for militias and mob violence. And there's no room for militias or organizations to just single-handedly and unilaterally decide that they're going to take over government buildings and government properties.
MARTIN SMITH: In defiance of the Americans and the Shi'ite religious establishment, Moqtada al Sadr and his Mehdi Army set up their military headquarters inside Najaf's Shrine of Imam Ali, the holiest of Shi'ite mosques.
MOQTADA AL SADR: [subtitles] The battle of Holy Najaf has unified Iraqis. Say with me, No to occupation! No, no occupation!
CROWD: No, no occupation!
MOQTADA AL SADR: No to America!
CROWD: No, no America!
DEXTER FILKINS, New York Times Baghdad Bureau, 2003-06: The mainstream Shi'ite religious leadership, they gave the Americans the green light to go in and take out the Mehdi Army, take out Moqtada, with the one condition, absolute condition, that they not damage the shrine.
MARTIN SMITH: The fighting dragged on for weeks. And at times, remaining police units behaved more like private militias. One group of policemen apparently loyal to Moqtada al Sadr's main rival, Abdul Aziz al Hakim, opened fire on a crowd of unarmed Sadr supporters. An American filmmaker, Andrew Berends, shot this footage.
Eventually, Sadr agreed to leave the mosque, but he kept his Mehdi Army and emerged a folk hero, a Shi'ite leader who had successfully defied the coalition.
DEXTER FILKINS: Moqtada, the young upstart fiery guy, starts this big uprising, breaks a lot of furniture, kills a lot of people. But you know, they let the angry young child kind of run out the back door.
[www.pbs.org: More on the Moqtada problem]
MARTIN SMITH: The battle of Najaf revealed just how weak and splintered Iraqi security forces were.
After watching Iraqi forces disintegrate and defect, the Coalition began looking for ways to revamp their training program.
LAITH KUBBA, Iraqi Gov't Spokesman, 2005-06: There was a fundamental flaw in the assumption that by simply training Iraqis, showing them how to use guns, wear the uniforms, answer to their line of management, that automatically, we're assuming their loyalty is going to be to the state. In reality, the Kurds had more or less their loyalty to Kurdish leaders. And many of the Shi'ites had their loyalty to Moqtada al Sadr or to al Hakim.
TRAINER: How's everything going?
NIR ROSEN, Author and Journalist: You had very little Sunni participation in the security forces. Which means that they weren't really Iraqi security forces. They were loyal primarily to Moqtada al Sadr, to Abdul Aziz al Hakim, but not to the Iraqi state and not to anybody in the Green Zone.
RICK BARTLE, Instructor: My name is Rick.
TRANSLATOR: [subtitles] My name is Rick. Not my name, his.
RICK BARTLE: I am not here to impose my American will upon you.
MARTIN SMITH: These recruits were filmed on their first day of class.
RICK BARTLE: Repeat this after me.
MARTIN SMITH: Rick Bartle is a private contractor --
RICK BARTLE: Freedom.
MARTIN SMITH: -- and an instructor at the Jordan Police Academy.
RICK BARTLE: Freedom.
MARTIN SMITH: He's also a self-described motivational speaker.
RICK BARTLE: Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!
Maj. Gen. JOSEPH PETERSON, Cmdr., Police Training,: When we enlist somebody into the police forces of Iraq, they swear an oath to serve the people of Iraq. They swear an oath to serve the constitution of Iraq and to be loyal to this effort.
RICK BARTLE: I want everybody to stand up. Stand up.
Brg. Gen. KARL HORST, 3rd Infantry Division, 2004-06: We spent a lot of time talking about the Iraqi flag.
RICK BARTLE: I want you to look at your flag. Look at your flag.
Brg. Gen. KARL HORST: We said the national interest is what is most important here because in their culture, what religious sect they're from, what tribe and family they are from very much defines who they are.
RICK BARTLE: I want you to pledge allegiance to your flag. Repeat after me. I pray Allah to give me the courage to protect my country of Iraq.
Brg. Gen. KARL HORST: And so the challenge was establishing this nationalist feeling in them --
RICK BARTLE: And I pray Allah --
Brg. Gen. KARL HORST: -- to move to the greater good of Iraq --
RICK BARTLE: -- for the souls of all my brothers that have gone before me.
Brg. Gen. KARL HORST: -- not to the greater good of Shia Islam or Sunni Islam. I mean, it was a challenge. It was a cultural difference.
RICK BARTLE: Long live Iraq!
RECRUITS: Long live Iraq!
RICK BARTLE: Long live Iraq! Yeah!
STEVE CASTEEL, Ministry of Interior Adviser, 2003-05: We were trying to build a Western model in an environment that really was a Middle East environment. You have to see the world through their eyes. If you see -- go in there and see the world through an American pair of eyes, you'll never be successful because this ain't America. And I think probably too many people saw the world only through an American pair of eyes.
MARTIN SMITH: In mid-2004, the Pentagon turned the training effort over to one of their biggest guns, General David Petraeus. Petraeus had received near universal praise for stabilizing one of Iraq's largest cities, Mosul, after the U.S. invasion. He earned the nickname King David.
[on camera] Is it fair to say you were brought in to fix a situation that was broken?
Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS, Cmdr., Police and Army Training, 2004-05: Well, we were certainly brought in to bring it all together. I mean, there were elements that were -- that had not done well. There were elements that were broken. There were also elements that had done well. And so what we needed to do was to do a comprehensive look and say what organizational changes -- what increases in resources do we need, in terms of coalition forces and in terms of money?
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Petraeus got the Pentagon to give the Iraqis more body armor, more radios, more guns and more ammunition.
U.S. ARMY TRAINER: They love to have meetings and talk and drink chai, and that's when you can get a lot of your good feedback out of them. Sit down and have a cup of chai, eat some bread, eat some rice.
MARTIN SMITH: And Petraeus expanded a program to embed U.S. advisers inside Iraqi units.
U.S. POLICE ADVISER: They're good at that. They like that. Meetings go kind of long sometimes.
MARTIN SMITH: And those advisers were given cultural awareness training.
U.S. ARMY TRAINER: A lot of times, they will give you the answer that you want to hear. It's an Arab thing.
MARTIN SMITH: But the emphasis under Petraeus remained on getting the numbers up.
Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS: [press conference February 4, 2005] The progress has been substantial. There are currently 136,000 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces. There are now 90 battalions that have completed training.
MATT SHERMAN, Ministry of Interior Adviser, 2003-05: General Petraeus was focused on the numbers. He was focused on making sure the resources were pushed out. D.C. was interested in making sure that manpower was generated.
MARTIN SMITH: But soon tens of thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqi policemen would fall under the control of a Shi'ite cleric, Abdul Aziz al Hakim. He and his party had emerged the big winners in Iraq's parliamentary election.
REPORTER: [subtitles] What are your feelings at this moment?
ABDUL AZIZ AL HAKIM, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq: [subtitles] I am very happy. Thank God. helped me participate in this historic process of elections.
MARTIN SMITH: Secular candidates backed by the Bush administration fared poorly.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN, Ctr. for Strategic and Intl. Studies: I think one of the great ironies of the election is democracy produced just the opposite result from the one most people thought it would. It created for the first time a government dominated by Shi'ite religious politicians acting not necessarily without regard to the nation's interest, but primarily on the basis of their own agenda.
MARTIN SMITH: Abdul Aziz al Hakim had spent 20 years in Iran, where he headed up a 10,000-man anti-Saddam militia, the Badr Corps. After the fall of Saddam, Hakim and his older brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al Hakim, returned from exile. Ayatollah Hakim was considered by many to be Iraq's new leader.
Three months after the Hakims returned, Sunni insurgents detonated a powerful car bomb outside Najaf's holy shrine just as Ayatollah Hakim was leaving Friday prayers. He and a hundred others were killed. The assassination of Ayatollah Hakim was the first major Sunni attack against Shia. Iraq's Shia have never forgotten.
ABDUL AZIZ AL HAKIM: [through interpreter] They started this war of eradication. They started their operations with Bloody Friday, when they killed my brother. And they continue their operations to this day.
MARTIN SMITH: With his party in power, Abdul Aziz al Hakim moved quickly to place party members and Badr militiamen in top government posts. One ministry was of special interest.
MATT SHERMAN: Of all the ministries that they were interested in being able to place one of their officials was the Ministry of Interior. In fact, it was the only ministry that they sought out.
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] Why were they so interested in taking over the Ministry of Interior?
MATT SHERMAN: I think -- I think the Commandos were the primary reason why.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] The Ministry of Interior is in charge of all of Iraq's 200,000 policemen, including the elite units known as the Commandos. The Commandos were formed in 2004. Many of the officers were Sunnis. Hakim wanted to make sure the Commandos and the Ministry of Interior came under Shi'ite control.
STEVE CASTEEL, Ministry of Interior Adviser, 2003-05: The Ministry of Interior had power. It was people on the streets. You control the population. It was all the civilian forces. You control what came across the borders. It was power.
MARTIN SMITH: Abdul Aziz al Hakim selected one of his party's top deputies, Bayan Jabr, to head up the Ministry.
ABDUL AZIZ AL HAKIM: [through interpreter] I knew Bayan Jabr and his extraordinary capabilities and his courage, his decisiveness and faith in the new Iraq. And I suggested his name as one of the best candidates to hold this very important position.
BAYAN JABR, Minister of Interior, 2005-06: Our party, they decided that I will be minister of interior. In the beginning, I refuse because I know it is tough job and it is not my job. I am civil engineer.
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] Did you have any experience in security work?
BAYAN JABR: No. I haven't. I was -- before I left Iraq in 1982, I was merchant.
MARTIN SMITH: But you had no experience in security?
BAYAN JABR: No, no experience.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Despite the elevator music, the Ministry of Interior is widely feared. Under Saddam, it housed torture centers. The ministry was where people disappeared. When Jabr took over, he started re-staffing commando units with Badr Corps commanders. The previous Interior Minister, Falah al Naqib, complained.
FALAH AL NAQIB: You know in those units, we had Shia and Sunna. They fired many of the Sunnis, and the Shia who didn't obey their orders from their political leadership, they were fired. And they brought people that, you know, taking orders from the political leadership or from the militias.
STEVE CASTEEL: They brought in leadership that had loyalty to certain factions. They brought in people intact, units intact, that were militias the day before, and they brought those into the system.
MARTIN SMITH: Bodies of Sunni men started appearing on the streets.
MATT SHERMAN: You heard reports about, you know, two or three individuals with police uniforms that would go out and kill somebody. And then you start to see activities where there's large numbers of individuals that are using police cars, that are in police uniforms and things like that. Then you start to say this is something that's sanctioned.
MICHAEL GORDON: These Iraqi national police officials were actually participating in these killings. It was worse than complicity. They were involved in executing them, or at least there was very strong evidence of that.
NIR ROSEN: You really saw a shift. And suddenly, you had much more Sunni civilians being targeted. They found bodies with the hands in the Sunni prayer position, the right hand on top of left hand. This was an indication that they were killed for being Sunni.
MARTIN SMITH: Some victims had their hands bound with police handcuffs.
DEXTER FILKINS, New York Times Baghdad Bureau, 2003-06: We started hearing the stories. We started hearing reports of death squads, kidnapping rings, you know, extrajudicial killings, you know, Sunni males found, you know, face down in a ditch, handcuffed, that sort of thing.
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] What happened beginning in the summer of 2005 that there became so many sectarian incidents, Shia police against Sunni citizens?
BAYAN JABR: That's not right. Believe me, you know what happened. We tried to fight the terrorists only. We focus on the terrorist, how to stop the terrorist, how to fight the insurgency.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Concerns about the Commandos were raised with General Petraeus by outgoing Minister Naqib.
FALAH AL NAQIB: We talked with General Petraeus before we leave. And I was worried that these forces, the commandos, would be a force to be used against Iraqis, against innocent Iraqis.
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] And you told Petraeus.
FALAH AL NAQIB: Yeah.
MARTIN SMITH: Did Petraeus understand your concern?
FALAH AL NAQIB: Yeah.
MARTIN SMITH: He did?
FALAH AL NAQIB: Yeah.
MARTIN SMITH: Just after you leave, we find the structure has been infiltrated by militia groups. Now, clearly, you must have seen this coming.
Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS: I did not. I did not see militia groups in the special police during the time that I was there.
MARTIN SMITH: These militias were effectively developing under your watch?
Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well -- I, I, again, don't -- I have not seen -- you know, we -- we kept hearing this all the time, Martin, that this or that -- to find the absolute evidence of this has actually been quite difficult.
[www.pbs.org: Read Gen. Petraeus's interview]
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] After that interview, General Petraeus told us he recalled three instances of detainee abuse. At his urging, he says, Jabr fired those responsible. But two months after Petraeus rotated out of Iraq, a U.S. general found inspected a ministry building called the Jadiriyah bunker.
Brg. Gen. KARL HORST, 3rd Infantry Division, 2004-06: There was no latrine. They were using one-liter water bottles as toilets. There was an acrid, pungent smell of urine and feces and rotted food and unclean bodies. It was -- it was absolutely horrendous.
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] Could you tell what had been done to them?
Brg. Gen. KARL HORST: It looked as though as they'd been beaten with -- with blunt objects, with sticks, with aluminum poles, with belts.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Horst discovered room after room, with a total of 169 prisoners.
MATT SHERMAN: Jabr had -- I mean, he had excuses for everything. I mean, Jabr -- again, it was, it was something where, you know, he viewed these individuals that were in the bunker as terrorists. He was someone who then viewed the torture that it was only a little torture. It wasn't much.
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] Is that what he said to you?
MATT SHERMAN: Yeah.
MARTIN SMITH: He said little torture?
MATT SHERMAN: Little torture.
MARTIN SMITH: You admitted to Matt Sherman that there was some torture.
BAYAN JABR: No, he is totally wrong.
MARTIN SMITH: They found 170, approximately --
BAYAN JABR: A hundred or two hundred, that is detainees that are criminals, many of them killed Iraqis by car bombs.
MARTIN SMITH: Does that justify torture?
BAYAN JABR: Yes! No, what do you mean?
MARTIN SMITH: Does that justify, does that make torture all --
BAYAN JABR: No, no, no. I am against the torture everywhere.
MARTIN SMITH: Jabr told us that there was no torture.
Brg. Gen. KARL HORST: Bayan Jabr never came to the compound to see for himself that there was torture. So if he told you there was no torture, frankly, I don't know how he would know that because he never went there.
DONALD RUMSFELD: [press conference, November 29, 2005] Good afternoon, folks.
Gen. PETER PACE, Chmn., Joint Chiefs of Staff: Your questions, please.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Charlie?
1st REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, are you concerned over -- and in fact, is the United States looking into growing reports of uniformed death squads in Iraq perhaps assassinating and torturing hundreds of Sunnis? And if that's true, what would that say about stability in Iraq?
DONALD RUMSFELD: [unintelligible] comment on hypothetical questions. I've not seen reports that hundreds are being killed by roving death squads at all.
2nd REPORTER: Sir, taking on Charlie's question a bit -- the United States is responsible for training and expects to turn over the security mission to them. So what is -- what is the U.S. obligation in addressing that and preventing that? And what can we do? And what are we doing?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility when a sovereign country engages in something that they disapprove of. However, we do have a responsibility to say so and to make sure that the training is proper and to work with the sovereign officials in the event some of these allegations prove to be true.
3rd REPORTER: And General Pace, what -- what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if they -- like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?
Gen. PETER PACE: It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it. So they did exactly what they should have done.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it. It's to report it.
Gen. PETER PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] After the Jadiriyah discovery, other torture centers came to light. By the time the Americans learned of this center in Hilla, four of the detainees had been sent to the morgue. Drill holes were visible in some of the bodies. Then in May 2006, another torture center called Site 4 containing 1,400 prisoners. Jabr does admit there was torture there.
[on camera] The abuses at Site 4 were uncovered at the end of May, while you were minister.
BAYAN JABR: Yes, it was happening. And I sent the inspector general. You can ask him. And he told me the situation is not so good.
MARTIN SMITH: And what happened there?
BAYAN JABR: They tortured someone. They tortured someone.
MARTIN SMITH: Who tortured?
BAYAN JABR: Two officers in that time.
MARTIN SMITH: And you think that was the extent of the abuse that went on when you were the minister?
BAYAN JABR: I cannot correct the ex-officers of Saddam.
MARTIN SMITH: You fired 300 of Saddam's officers. You fired more than that.
BAYAN JABR: Yes. If I am the minister, if Falah Naqib the minister, the same thing happen because the minister cannot follow up small thing, small thing that's in 200,000 police. The minister cannot follow up. Rumsfeld, he don't know what happen in Abu Ghraib. President Bush don't know what happen in Abu Ghraib. The soldiers do that. All the officer do that. For that, they punish them and send them to the jail.
MARTIN SMITH: But you are the man responsible. You are in charge, and this was happening under your watch.
BAYAN JABR: It's happened everywhere in the world, everywhere. In the United States happen. In Germany happen. Everywhere.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Soon killing would spread to the streets. In February 2006, a Sunni insurgent group -- most believed it was al Qaeda -- bombed the al Askariyah mosque in Samarra.
[www.pbs.org: Chronology of the downward spiral]
BAYAN JABR: [subtitles] Honorable people of Samarra, we have to stand together as one. The shrine is for you, all Iraqis and all Muslims.
MARTIN SMITH: Interior Minister Bayan Jabr came to Samarra and called for reconciliation.
BAYAN JABR: [subtitles] We won't betray our country.
CROWD: [subtitles] We're brothers, Sunni and Shia! We're brother, Sunni and Shia!
MARTIN SMITH: But Shi'ite mobs would not be held back.
DEXTER FILKINS: If you want a starting point for the Iraqi civil war, it's February 2006, with the bombing of the shrine in Samarra. And I think what happened then was, finally, the Shi'ites lost patience.
[www.pbs.org: Read Filkins's extended interview]
MARTIN SMITH: Over the next 10 days, Sunni mosques were attacked, imams were killed, their bodies dragged on the streets.
MOWAFFAK AL RUBAIE, National Security Adviser: We knew this is going to be the beginning of a new era in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq, by blowing up that mosque, has succeeded in triggering a sectarian rift between the two communities.
MARTIN SMITH: Hundreds died in the violence. There were numerous reports of police standing idly by, or in some cases, joining the killing.
LAITH KUBBA, Iraqi Govt. Spokesman, 2005-06: Nobody could control it. When the state failed to protect Shia neighborhoods from the growing attacks, a lot of Shia started to argue that, "Look, you're not protecting us. You're not even protecting the holy shrines. We cannot rely on you." And I think that was a turning point when violence increased and the militias amongst the Shias became unruly.
MARTIN SMITH: By mid-2006, the coalition had identified two dozen militias operating in Baghdad. Some were small splinter groups or criminal gangs. Others were large sectarian militias. The new prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, promised to go after all of them.
[www.pbs.org: Baghdad video diaries]
NOURI AL MALIKI, Prime Minister: [press conference] [subtitles] We will strike with an iron fist against the heads of the gangs and all those who threaten security.
MARTIN SMITH: But it was doubtful that Maliki could control the militias. He rose to power with the backing of a militia leader, Moqtada al Sadr. And the two largest Shi'ite militias, Sadr's Mehdi Army and Hakim's Badr Corps, remained entrenched within the Interior Ministry and the Iraqi army. Coalition commanders had little choice but to ask for more advisers to monitor the Iraqi forces.
Lt. Gen. PETER CHIARELLI, Cmdr., Multi-National Corps, 2006: We had military police, but not in the numbers needed to cover down on all the police stations in Baghdad. This is a country and a culture where it is absolutely critical that you work with people on a daily basis. And we knew that our idea of training, where a military police training team would dip into a police station once every six days and come back every sixth day, was not going to work.
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON, Police Adviser: Where AK? AK?
MARTIN SMITH: New guidelines were issued. The goal was to have advisory teams visit police stations daily for at least six hours.
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON: Sometimes it's like herding cats.
Mobile? Mobile? Here! Hey! I got one! Imagine that!
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] Why do you take the cell phones away?
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON: We take the cell phones away so none of the IPs can call their buddies and tell them we're coming or warn their buddies so that they can get away or set us up.
MARTIN SMITH: Buddies of the Mehdi Army maybe?
Sgt. KEVONTE WILSON: Any kind of organization that hates coalition forces.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] The elite Commando units were also supposed to be more closely supervised and re-trained.
Sgt. Maj. ROCK SCHIFFER, Police Adviser: Why do they have masks on?
COMMANDO: We have a mission.
Sgt. Maj. ROCK SCHIFFER: A mission to do what?
COMMANDO: [subtitles] It's mission. I can't give you details.
MARTIN SMITH: But often advisers can do little more than just report what they see.
Sergeant Major Rock Schiffer is assigned to National Police headquarters.
Sgt. Maj. ROCK SCHIFFER: [on the phone] Sir, there's some trucks that just left here out on a mission, and the guys are all hooded. And I tried to ask them why they were wearing masks over their faces, and they said security reasons. Do we know anything about this? OK. All right, sir. Thank you. Bye.
MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] You asked them about why they were wearing the hoods.
Sgt. Maj. ROCK SCHIFFER: Right.
MARTIN SMITH: They do what they like.
Sgt. Maj. ROCK SCHIFFER: Sometimes they do.
MARTIN SMITH: Are you sympathetic with them?
Sgt. Maj. ROCK SCHIFFER: Not really. Being policemen, you've got to be totally exposed.
MARTIN SMITH: Why?
Sgt. Maj. ROCK SCHIFFER: Because the public won't have confidence in you if they think you've got your face covered. That makes the public nervous.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] After that phone call, Schiffer learns that there is a major incident at the Sunni-led Ministry of Higher Education. Over 50 gunmen wearing police commando uniforms have snuck past checkpoints, stormed the building and taken scores of employees hostage.
I went to talk to the head of the National Police, General Hussein Adwadi, to see if he could tell me if his men were responsible.
[on camera] How is it possible that they could get past the checkpoints in order to get close to this building?
Maj. Gen. HUSSEIN ADWADI: [subtitles] They came to the building wearing police uniforms. That's how they were able to get through the checkpoints. The cars they used are similar ours and are easy to buy in the marketplace.
MARTIN SMITH: What does it say to you about the security of the country when anybody can go and buy a police vehicle, wear a uniform and get through your checkpoints?
Maj. Gen. HUSSEIN ADWADI: [subtitles] It's easy to do. It can happen in any country in the world, including America. Anyone can buy a car, paint it and pretend to be a policeman and commit a terrorist act.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] According to several reports, 70 ministry employees are still missing.
U.S. military commanders maintain that the Iraqi army is doing much better than the police. We spent a few days with an Iraqi army unit in south Baghdad. According to an assessment scale developed by Coalition trainers, this unit is ready to take the lead in operations. But when the Americans ready the unit to go out on an early morning raid, it is clear who is in charge.
SOLDIER: All right, the primary will be right here, east side of the apartments, and be prepared for 1st sergeant to establish the ultimate LZ right next to the FOB position.
MARTIN SMITH: The Iraqi soldiers are purposely not told where they will be going or why. Their commander estimates that 40 percent of the unit is sympathetic to the Mehdi Army. Just after dawn, acting on a tip, the Americans and the Iraqis raid an apartment complex in a Shi'ite neighborhood.
LOUDSPEAKER: [subtitles] Attention, attention, attention. The Iraqi army and Coalition forces have a mission in your area. Please stay in your houses. Thank you for your cooperation.
U.S. SOLDIER: That way! Help your buddy.
MARTIN SMITH: They search cars in the parking lot.
U.S. SOLDIER: Hey, we got a couple of 1-5-5 rounds.
MARTIN SMITH: The Americans find a cache of weapons and explosives and arrest several men, members of the Mehdi Army.
U.S. SOLDIER: We got rockets. We got [deleted] mortars. We got AKs. Today is a good [deleted] day!
U.S. SOLDIER: Yes, it is!
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] Radio! Radio! Radio!
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] Is it a bomb?
MARTIN SMITH: The Iraqi soldiers find a car bomb.
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] We found a live car bomb, a black BMW. Inform the friendly forces.
U.S. SOLDIER: [on the radio] Roger. The VBIED is a BMW up on blocks. Roger. IAs [Iraqi army] popped the trunk. There was two shaped charges wired in the trunk. Over. Negative. As soon as they saw it, they all ran back. Over. Roger
U.S. SOLDIER: Ask one of these guys if they'll take my knife and cut the wires to that [deleted] VBIED.
U.S. SOLDIER: Stay back. If that goes off, you don't want to be anywhere near here.
MARTIN SMITH: The Iraqi soldier appears neither trained nor equipped to defuse the device.
U.S. SOLDIER: He's not going to? OK, Shokran.
U.S. SOLDIER: No, he's not going to do it.
MARTIN SMITH: An American bomb squad has to be called in for the detonation.
By late morning, the soldiers find two dozen copper disks. The CIA believes such plates are supplied by Iran. They are used to make some of the most deadly weapons in Iraq, explosively formed penetrators or EFPs.
The Americans consider the operation a big success. But then FRONTLINE's cameraman catches some of the Iraqis having a discussion--
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] I know where it is.
MARTIN SMITH: -- about another cache of weapons.
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] It's not here. It's with the sheikh.
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] Who?
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] It's with the Sayid. It's with my mullah. I'm telling you there's nothing here. This is just kid stuff. The big stuff is not here.
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] Sir, the videocamera has a microphone.
MARTIN SMITH: We didn't translate the conversation until months later, but the Iraqis never shared with the Americans where the larger cache was.
U.S. SOLDIER: We have the 350. Put all this stuff in the Ford.
MATT SHERMAN, Ministry of Interior Adviser, 2003-05: We have been going about, pumping out so many individuals with weapons, with uniforms that my greatest fear is that in our effort to train and equip the Iraq security forces, what we've been doing is equipping Iraqis for civil war.
ROBERT PERITO, Police Training Expert: If it really turns out that what we've done is to train or to equip forces that have been used to commit sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, whatever you want to call this, that would be a travesty.
MARTIN SMITH: By late 2006, the Bush administration finally began to question its strategy.
MICHAEL GORDON, The New York Times: They were getting a queasy feeling in their stomach that the Casey-Rumsfeld strategy of putting the onus on the Iraqis as fast as possible and relying on training as your mechanism to craft an exist strategy wasn't working. So they decide to dump Rumsfeld. They decide to do a big strategy review.
MARTIN SMITH: The Pentagon turned again to General David Petraeus. Salvaging America's Iraq strategy would bed up to him.
Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS: [February 10, 2007] The challenges ahead are substantial. The rucksack of responsibility is very heavy.
MARTIN SMITH: Petraeus shifted the emphasis from training Iraqi forces --
Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS: -- and we will all have to share the burden --
MARTIN SMITH: -- to defeating Iraq's militias. He would ask for more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops.
Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS: Failing that, Iraq will be doomed to continued violence and civil strife. And surely, that is a prospect that all must strive to avoid.
MARTIN SMITH: But in November, 2006, Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, told us that Iraq's militia problem could not be resolved militarily.
[on camera] You're criticized for being relatively soft on the Mehdi Army. How do you respond to that accusation?
NOURI AL MALIKI: [through interpreter] This is a false accusation made by those who oppose the government. Our policy is to reject all militias, whether they are Shia or Sunni, whether it is the Mehdi Army, the Omar Army or the Islamic Army or some other militia.
MARTIN SMITH: But there's no secret about the tension that has existed between you and the Bush administration to get tougher on the militias. Explain the tension, the disagreement?
NOURI AL MALIKI: [through interpreter] There is a difference in viewpoints on how to restore security and confront challenges. We think that military action is not a suitable method to confront terrorism, militias and secret organizations.
MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Then in January, 2007, under heavy U.S. pressure, Maliki bowed.
Soon thereafter, General Petraeus launched raids on Mehdi Army strongholds, and last week armed Shi'ite militiamen in southern Iraq.
The security situation improved marginally in some places, but just last week, after a long silence, Moqtada al Sadr called for Iraq's army and police to join his Mehdi militia in defeating their arch-enemy, the Americans.
Over the next weeks and months, U.S. soldiers will be left to guess whose side their Iraqi counterparts are on.
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