The U.S. military first set up the militias, such as the special police commandos, providing them with weapons, training and a sophisticated “operations center.”

Embedded in the Interior Ministry are two veterans of America’s dirty wars in Latin America. One is James Steele, who during the war in El Salvador in the 1980s led “a team of 55 Special Forces advisers, [which] trained front-line battalions that were accused of significant human rights abuses.”

Writing in “The New York Times” last May, Peter Maas noted: “the senior U.S. adviser in the Ministry of Interior, which has operational control over the commandos, is Steve Casteel, a former top official in the Drug Enforcement Administration who spent much of his professional life immersed in the drug wars of Latin America.”

When asked by “Knight Ridder” last June about reports of killings, Casteel claimed: “The
small numbers that we’ve investigated we’ve found to be either rumor or innuendo.”

Casteel actually headed the Iraqi Interior Ministry until “sovereignty” was handed off to
Iraqis handpicked by the U.S. on June 28,2004.

Another key figure is Special Forces Col. James Coffman. In April 2004 he was described in the New Yorker as Steele’s assistant. In February 2005 “The Wall Street Journal” described Coffman as the assistant to Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who in September finished a tour overseeing the training of all Iraqi military units.

A Pentagon press release from October 2004 called the Special Police Commandos, to which Coffman is a “senior adviser,” a “paramilitary army-type force.” About that time, Petraeus visited the commandos and decided to give them money to “buy vehicles, ammunition, radios and more weapons.”

For his part, Coffman fought in a battle with police commandos in the city of Mosul after it fell to guerrillas in November 2004. He received a Distinguished Service Cross this past Aug. 24 in a ceremony attended by Gen.George Casey, the head of all forces in Iraq, and Interior Minister Jabr.

According to the Army News Service, “Coffman praised the commandos for their service
and commitment to defending freedom in Iraq.”

The following day, Aug. 25, the bodies of 36 Sunni Arab men turned up along the Iranian border, “their hands still bound and their skulls shattered by bullets.”

They had been abducted from the Western Baghdad neighborhood of Dolay two days prior by the police commandos’ Volcano Brigade, which is said to draw from Jabr’s Badr Brigade.

Now, according to reporter James Rupert, Dolay and adjoining neighborhoods “look like battle zones in a civil war... Remaining Sunnis in Dolay have closed off their side streets with barricades... At night, neighbors stand guard with assault rifles, and sometimes battle police.”

THE GULAG CRESCENT

Iraq has 1,100 prisons in a nation of 27 million. The government says it holds around 2,000 detainees, but this works out to a scant 11 prisoners per facility. Anecdotal evidence suggests the total may be far higher.

One 43-year-old Iraqi told Reuters he was tortured and held in a facility that held “an average of 800 prisoners at any one time.”

A 15-year-old Sunni Arab male seized in Baghdad told the Los Angeles Times he was
held in a room with “50 other handcuffed and blindfolded men” who were tortured with electrical shocks and burnings.

A report by the BBC showed another facility “so crowded there was barely room for all the prisoners to sit, let alone lie down.”