No Comment — May 23, 2007, 8:11 am

Secret U.S. Plan to Assassinate Iraqi Leader Revealed

It’s tough being a political leader in Iraq these days. President Jalal Talabani is at the prestigious Mayo Clinic seeking treatment for an array of obesity-related ailments. Vice President Abdul Aziz Hakim was just diagnosed with cancer in Houston, and has opted to undergo a brutal round of chemotherapy in Tehran. Prime Minister al-Maliki is faced with almost daily threats from Americans who intimate that his days are numbered, and that he will soon be assassinated or otherwise swept from the political scene in Baghdad.

In the meantime, the American nemisis Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful force behind the scenes in the al-Maliki government, seems to be busily preparing for a more robust role in government as soon as al-Maliki falls. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported on al-Sadr’s recent political maneuvers:

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. Sadr’s political followers are distancing themselves from the fragile Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is widely criticized as corrupt, inefficient and biased in favor of Iraq’s majority Shiites. And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr’s movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr’s image and position him in the middle of Iraq’s ideological spectrum.

Notwithstanding al-Sadr’s efforts to appear more moderate, if he or his proxies secure high office in the new government, this will certainly provoke the ire of the Bush administration.

Today London’s Independent reports in a piece filed by Patrick Cockburn what has long been rumored: in August 2004, American forces in Iraq planned to assassinate al-Sadr, whom they increasingly viewed as a disruptive, unpredictable and hostile force.

The US Army tried to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr, the widely revered Shia cleric, after luring him to peace negotiations at a house in the holy city of Najaf, which it then attacked, according to a senior Iraqi government official. The revelation of this extraordinary plot, which would probably have provoked an uprising by outraged Shia if it had succeeded, has left a legacy of bitter distrust in the mind of Mr Sadr for which the US and its allies in Iraq may still be paying. “I believe that particular incident made Muqtada lose any confidence or trust in the [US-led] coalition and made him really wild,” the Iraqi National Security Adviser Dr Mowaffaq Rubai’e told The Independent in an interview. It is not known who gave the orders for the attempt on Mr Sadr but it is one of a series of ill-considered and politically explosive US actions in Iraq since the invasion. In January this year a US helicopter assault team tried to kidnap two senior Iranian security officials on an official visit to the Iraqi President. Earlier examples of highly provocative actions carried out by the US with little thought for the consequences include the dissolution of the Iraqi army and the Baath party.

The reverential tones of Cockburn’s reporting seem rather out of place. Al-Sadr was wanted for a homicide at the time, and his Mahdi Army was actively engaged in firefights with Army and Marine units in Najaf. Nevertheless, he had by the summer of 2004 established himself firmly in the leadership of his father’s Sadrist movement–an extremely powerful political force among Iraq’s Shiia majority.

Observers have long suggested that the Bush Administration has embraced targeted killings–political assassinations–as a tactic to be used in connection with the war on terror. The legality of such a move is extremely questionable. In concept, it could occur only with specific authorization of President Bush, and even then would appear to be at odds both with established principals of international law and traditional American military doctrine. President Abraham Lincoln gave an order in 1863 outlawing assassinations as a military tactic. However, Executive Order 12333, issued December 4, 1981, by Ronald Reagan established a process through which they might be authorized but generally were prohibited. The Independent’s report suggests the existence of a further secret executive order by George W. Bush which authorizes targeted killings in the war on terror, something which has long been suspected by national security law experts.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2015

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Come With Us If You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us If You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today