The man who would be king

Iraqi government forces arrived at the headquarters of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) at about 2 a.m. on Feb. 23, half a block from Baghdad’s Firdos Square, where eight years earlier news cameras had captured the iconic toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue. The soldiers jumped out of their Humvees and began trying to break down ...

553006_110613_almalaki12.jpg
553006_110613_almalaki12.jpg
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - MAY 11: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during a press conference on May 11, 2011 at the green zone area in Baghdad, Iraq. Al-Maliki has suggested that Iraqi main political blocks would discuss this month whether American troops should stay beyond a year-end deadline. (Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah /Getty Images)

Iraqi government forces arrived at the headquarters of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) at about 2 a.m. on Feb. 23, half a block from Baghdad's Firdos Square, where eight years earlier news cameras had captured the iconic toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. The soldiers jumped out of their Humvees and began trying to break down the front door. Inside, the building's night watchman had been sleeping in his ground-floor apartment. He woke to the banging and opened the door, where he was met by a score of armed men, some wearing black clothing and ski masks, some in military fatigues stripped of any identifying insignia.

"Where is the JFO?" the officers demanded.

They didn't identify themselves. They didn't have to. As the government would later confirm, these forces answered to the Baghdad Operations Command, which coordinates all security forces in the capital and reports directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office. Since 2007, Maliki has bypassed several layers of civilian and military leadership, establishing a direct line of control over key security forces, including Iraq's 54th and 56th brigades, as well as an elite counterterrorism force trained and supported by the U.S. Special Operations Command. In concert with the "surge," this strategy helped Iraq's government regain control of the streets from a virulent insurgency. "We're working literally day and night with the Baghdad Operation[s] Command," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad, on Feb. 16, 2007, at the dawn of a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation that would soon bring remarkable security gains to the capital. Some four years later, the Baghdad Operations Command continues to act against entities deemed dangerous to the state.

Iraqi government forces arrived at the headquarters of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) at about 2 a.m. on Feb. 23, half a block from Baghdad’s Firdos Square, where eight years earlier news cameras had captured the iconic toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue. The soldiers jumped out of their Humvees and began trying to break down the front door. Inside, the building’s night watchman had been sleeping in his ground-floor apartment. He woke to the banging and opened the door, where he was met by a score of armed men, some wearing black clothing and ski masks, some in military fatigues stripped of any identifying insignia.

"Where is the JFO?" the officers demanded.

They didn’t identify themselves. They didn’t have to. As the government would later confirm, these forces answered to the Baghdad Operations Command, which coordinates all security forces in the capital and reports directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office. Since 2007, Maliki has bypassed several layers of civilian and military leadership, establishing a direct line of control over key security forces, including Iraq’s 54th and 56th brigades, as well as an elite counterterrorism force trained and supported by the U.S. Special Operations Command. In concert with the "surge," this strategy helped Iraq’s government regain control of the streets from a virulent insurgency. "We’re working literally day and night with the Baghdad Operation[s] Command," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad, on Feb. 16, 2007, at the dawn of a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation that would soon bring remarkable security gains to the capital. Some four years later, the Baghdad Operations Command continues to act against entities deemed dangerous to the state.

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Ben Van Heuvelen is the managing editor of Iraq Oil Report. As a freelance journalist, he has written for the Atlantic and Salon, and he blogs at benvanheuvelen.com.

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