It’s ten years since America invaded Iraq. Ten years and over 120,000 dead. Among them over 4,400 American soldiers. Back then, US administration funded a deadly, paramilitary force to fight those threatening the American presence. It was a decision that helped fuel a sectarian civil war that ripped Iraq apart. At its height, three years later, 3000 bodies a month were showing up on the streets of Iraq. This is a story of James Steele – the man the Pentagon sent in to help organise and train those paramilitary squads.
He’s a veteran of America’s so called “dirty wars” stretching back to Vietnam and El Salvador. This man was so important to the Pentagon that the then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saw fit to forward his personal memos to the president and vice president.
Colonel James Steele was a 58-year-old retired special forces veteran when he was nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency. After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the special police commando (SPC) membership was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups such as the Badr brigades. A second special adviser, retired Colonel James H Coffman, worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding.
The allegations, made by US and Iraqi witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, implicate US advisers for the first time in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an adviser to this abuse.
Watch the full documentary now - 51 min