Derek Harvey, who later served on Trump's National Security Council, told Reuters in 2015 that in 2003 and 2004 we had released assassins from the Badr Brigade who had target lists of Baathists because his superiors said that this stuff "had to play itself out". A May 28 2003 cable notes Badr revenge killings at the beginning of the occupation and a strong public SCIRI/Badr presence. The Coalition captured a letter which they published in February 2004 from Zarqawi to Al Qaeda in which Zarqawi says that jihadis need to start a more open civil war against the Shia to mobilize Sunnis. Zarqawi cited only the Badr Brigade assassinations as a contemporary reason to bomb Shia, yet I have not found any news report mentioning this specific reference.
We learned that Badr members were placed in special police commando units to form death squads before and especially after a Badr commander, Bayan Jabr, was appointed to the head the Interior (police) Ministry by the new government in 2005. Jerry Burke, an adviser to the Interior Ministry, said that the top brass prevented an attempt to surveil and stop these special police death squads. Rumsfeld has released a "library" of documents which includes an email from James Steele that he forwarded to Cheney and Bush containing warnings that Badr police death squads could cause a sectarian civil war. He left only a cryptic comment and did nothing to prevent it. After that email and after the Al-Askariyah (Golden Mosque) bombing, our military signed off on an agreement to integrate more than 1,000 Badr members as officers in the Iraqi army, as told by Badr leader Hadi al-Ameri relayed in a 2006 cable (but he complained that the US embassy was blocking the integration).
When Rumsfeld was fired and we started the surge, gun deaths immediately dropped in Baghdad. Half a year later, overall Iraq Body Count civilian deaths were dramatically cut in half over the course of two months, and notably just before the 23% increase in troops was fully completed. Rumsfeld maintained that he wanted to leave as soon as we trained the security forces, even before we quelled violence. Everyone besides the neocons eventually won out over him. I mention the origin of Badr in the Iran-Iraq war and our secret support for both sides. I conclude that what we allowed in Iraq was based more on the Iran-Iraq war than the Salvador Option.
The Bush Administration decided to allow a sectarian civil war to develop when they could have prevented it merely by not allowing assassinations and torture on a large scale. Because they had to invade Iraq (based entirely on lies) in order to intentionally start the process by firing the Baathists and the army, we can say that the Bush Administration started the Iraqi civil war.
There is an important Reuters article titled "Why Washington ignored torture by Iraqi militias" by Ned Parker, who wrote a series of articles on Iraqi militias' continued involvement in the fight against ISIS. It has this key revelation:
"After Saddam's fall, Washington hoped ISCI and Badr would be reliable partners for the security forces, which Badr members joined in large numbers. But despite claims that they had demobilised after their return to Iraq, Badr's fighters did not disarm, U.S. army intelligence officers say. Instead, they began to assassinate former Iraqi officers, influential Baath party members and civil servants.
Colonel Derek Harvey, a retired intelligence officer, told Reuters that the U.S. military detained Badr-assassination teams possessing target lists of Sunni officers and pilots in 2003 and 2004 but did not hold them. Harvey said his superiors told him that "this stuff had to play itself out" -- implying that revenge attacks by returning Shi'ite groups were to be expected. He also said Badr and ISCI offered intelligence and advice to U.S. officials on how to navigate Iraqi politics.
Derek Harvey was on Trump's NSC before being fired by McMaster for being anti-Iran. McMaster has since changed his posture by saying that the Iranians are violating the deal. This follows reporting that Sheldon Adelson wanted him out. And now there's Bolton, whose position on the MEK is explained by the information in this essay.
The Badr Brigade was the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which changed its name to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Badr changed its name to the Badr Organization after the invasion and would eventually become its own political party. SCIRI and its Badr Brigade were a network of exiled Iraqis who had escaped to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Badr was trained by Iran and wanted, as SCIRI's name suggests, to replace Saddam with an Islamic theocracy up until the Americans invaded. They participated in the Iran-Iraq war and the 1991 uprising following the First Gulf War. According to this CFR page, Badr was 10,000 strong in 2003, less than .1% of well over 10 (probably 15) million Shia in a country of 25 million people at the time.
The documentaries "James Steele: America's Mystery Man in Iraq" by the Guardian and "Gangs of Iraq" by PBS Frontline, as well as articles like "The Salvadorization of Iraq?" by Peter Maass in the New York Times Magazine and this NYT article have painted the picture that the U.S. didn't want torture to end after Abu Ghraib (one of seven prisons in which photographed abuse by Americans occurred) was exposed. Various early news articles on assassination such as "Revenge Drives String of Killings in Basra - NYTimes.com" raised the question of whether there were groups that appeared to be engaged in assassination that the U.S. didn't care to investigate.
Yet Derek Harvey's statement shows that we wanted and knowingly enabled assassination, and that we did so before we had the excuses that we gave Iraq's government "sovereignty" and that we had been there long enough. This also renders irrelevant the excuse that we had Sunnis like Falah Hassan Al-Naqib (the interior minister from 2004-2005) and his uncle Adnan Thabit (the head of the Special Police Commandos who had been tortured under Saddam) heading the police before the elections.
This cannot be passed off as merely an ugly and illegal counterinsurgency strategy. Harvey's statement made it pretty clear that Badr targeted Baathists in 2003 and 2004 for their former position, and not because of evidence tying them to the insurgency. Given that we had determined that they were assassins, how could we let them assassinate people whom we thought were insurgents? We would need to interrogate them in order to discover what the broader insurgent networks are, as we were doing with others. Unfortunately, we interrogated people with torture. Conservatives believed that torture worked well enough that it had to be used despite the effect it would have on our reputation, which makes simply killing them seem even worse as a counterinsurgency strategy from a conservative perspective.