"Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had -- guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress.
The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. And the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.
And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections.
The power of that concept is enormous. And it will apply in Afghanistan, and it will apply as well in Iraq."
Use of the Salvador Option in the War in Iraq . . .
Planning and Rationale
In April of 2005, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote  that Stuart Herrington recently visited Iraq as a counterinsurgency consultant to the Pentagon, and they quoted Herrington as saying, "when I was [in Iraq], I favored using Shiites and Kurds to go after the Sunnis." They also wrote that Reuel Marc Gerecht confirms that death squads, consisting of Kurdish and Shia commando teams, have been assembled to go after Sunni insurgent leaders, and quoted Gerecht as saying, "[The Pentagon] is trying to expand these units and deploy them more aggressively."
The strategy of creating death squads was openly and in detail discussed in other sources in early 2005. In Newsweek , one US military source described the rationale: "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."
Implementation and Effects
A year later death squad killings are commonplace. CBS News reported in March, 2006  that, over a period of several weeks, "hundreds of Iraqis have been killed in sectarian violence and by death squads operating inside the Shiite-dominated [Interior?] ministry." Their report continued saying that "usually, the victims are killed in secret, their bodies discovered hours or days later." The article detailed multiple abductions and killings done by combinations of masked and uniformed men identifying themselves as Interior Ministry intelligence agents.
Aftermath and Re-Evaluation
Gerecht wrote in the Wall Street Journal on April 3, 2006  that "we are now in the unenviable position of having to confront radicalized, murderous Shiite militias...." He continued, "The Bush administration would be wise not to postpone any longer what it should have already undertaken--securing Baghdad," and he recommended this despite predicting that, "Pacifying Baghdad will be politically convulsive and provide horrific film footage and skyrocketing body counts."
Officially, the US and the Iraqi governments express concern over the existence of death squads and Iraq's descent into civil war. In an April 24, 2006 interview with CNN , Iraq's new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki (while living abroad known as Jawad al-Maliki) discussed disbanding the militias. CNN quoted al-Maliki as saying, "When the government is able to exercise its control and provide security, then we will be able to work out the mechanism of how we can dissolve these militias."
Related SourceWatch Resources
- Robert Dreyfuss, "Phoenix Rising", The American Prospect, January 1, 2004
- Michael Hirsh and John Barry, "The Salvador Option-The Pentagon may put Special-Forces-led assassination or kidnapping teams in Iraq", Newsweek, Jan 14, 2005
- Jason Vest, "Repeating Errors of History", AlterNet, January 12, 2005.
- Justin Raimondo, "Iraq and the El Salvador 'Option' - Death squads vs. democracy", AntiWar dot org, January 14, 2005
- Scott Ritter, "The Salvador Option", ZNet, January 25, 2005
- Tom Gibb, "Salvador Option' mooted for Iraq", BBC, South America, January 27, 2005
- Jonathan D. Tepperman, "Salvador in Iraq: Flash Back", Council on Foreign Relations, April 5, 2005
- Peter Maas, "The Salvadorization of Iraq?", The New York Times Magazine, May 01,2005 (mirrored on Peter Maas's personal website)
- Nicolas J. S. Davies, "The Dirty War in Iraq", ZMagazine, November. 2005
- James Rupert/Newsday, "Secret death squads feared among Iraq's commandos", Seattle Times, November 17, 2005
- Dexter Filkins, "Sunnis Accuse Iraqi Military of Kidnappings and Slayings", New York Times, November 29, 2005
- Kim Sengupta, "Operation enduring chaos: The retreat of the coalition & rise of the militias", The Independent, October 29, 2006
- Wikipedia article on this subject containing complementary quotes and references.