'Special Groups' Pose Special Problems
Well now, isn't that special?
In the beginning, the enemy in Iraq was Saddam Hussein and his Baath party loyalists. Then the main villain was al-Qaeda. But today, when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker came to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, they identified a new Enemy No. 1: "special groups."
It has a benign sound to it, like "special education," or "special guest," but make no mistake: "Unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq," Petraeus testified this morning.
The "special groups," militias supported by Iran, merited only one mention when Petraeus and Crocker came before the committee last September, and that was a passing reference by Petraeus late in the hearing in response to a question. But the hearing this morning has turned into a special session for special-group alarms -- 16 mentions of the special groups so far -- as witnesses and senators worried that Iran's special proxies were creating an especially big problem.
"Iran has fueled the violence," Petraeus said, "in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support to the special groups." The recent "flare-up," Petraeus said, "highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming and directing the so-called special groups." That's why, he continued, he has "focused on the special groups" and noted that Iranian leaders aren't living up to their promises "to stop their support for the special groups."
Crocker, too, said the "special groups" pose a major threat to the Iraqi government. "A wild card remains the Sadrist trend and whether the Iraqis can continue to drive a wedge between other elements of the trend and Iranian-supported special groups," he said.
The pivot to the worry about "special groups" was bound to cause jealousy among the members of al Qaeda, who were not regarded as "special" by either the committee or the witnesses. But the new focus on the "special groups" also served to highlight the fact that the American presence in Iraq is creating new and special enemies.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and the ranking Republican on the committee, adopted the "special groups" phrase too -- an improvement on his performance during a recent trip to the region when he claimed, falsely, that Iran was supporting al Qaeda. "We must press ahead against Al Qaida, the radical Shiite militias -- Shia militias -- and the Iranian-backed special groups," he said.
The senator asked Petraeus what could be done about attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad. Petraeus answered that the "Iraqi security forces are going to have to come to grips with . . . the special groups."
The "special" talk caught the attention of Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. "Are the Iranians still training and equipping Iraqi extremists who are going back into Iraq and killing American soldiers?"
"That is correct, senator," the general replied. "The special groups activities have in fact come out in greater relief during the violence of recent weeks. It is they who have the expertise to shoot rockets more accurately, shoot mortars more accurately and to employ some of the more
advanced material, the explosively formed projectiles and the like, that have not just killed our soldiers and Iraqi soldiers but also have been used to assassinate two southern governors in past months and two southern police chiefs."
"Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?" Lieberman asked.
"It certainly is."
By washingtonpost.com |
April 8, 2008; 12:20 PM ET
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