Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wolves In Attack Dog Clothing

Iraqis trapped between Sunni insurgents and rogue Shi'a "protectors"

There's a cable TV show called The Shield. It's about a corrupt police unit that fights crime while generating a murderous crime wave of its own. Sort of The Sopranos meets NYPD Blue. It seems to me that Iraqis could produce such a TV show of its own called, Liwaa al Deeb, "The Wolf Brigade". Actually they already have had that: a Cops-style TV show featuring the Wolf Brigade called Terrorism in the Grip of Justice.

Today, NPR did a report interviewing American US military adviser , Maj. Charles Miller, who worked with the Wolf Brigade. Miller details coerced confessions, selective targeting of Sunnis for crimes, and even a staged ambushed on Miller's unit:

"We rolled out to the site, with no clue of where it was," he recalls. "About 45 seconds after we stopped, me and two of my captains dismounted and an IED went off by the first truck. And then we started getting hit with mortars from across the river and machine guns and RPGs. The National Police dismounted their vehicles, took cover in ditch and never fired back."

"Whether we were set up or not, we don't know," Miller says. "That was the opinion that we got. Because we were being so rough on them — sticklers for details."

After the incident, Miller says, he had a long talk with the Iraqi battalion commander, who blamed "bad ammunition" for his forces not coming to the Americans' aid.

Reuters has done its own report on the interview.

Although, the Wolf brigade is now associated with Shi'a targeting of Sunnis, it seems to have been originally a mixed-sect organization whose primary connection was that they were drawn from officers in the Saddam regime army.*
*Those who lament the "disbanding" of the Iraqi army should take note.

Interestingly, the AP reported the following story from Tal Afar today:
Shiite militants and police enraged by massive truck bombings in the northwestern town of Tal Afar went on a revenge spree against Sunni residents there Wednesday, killing as many as 60 people, officials said.

Ali al-Talafari, a Sunni member of the local Turkomen Front Party, said the Iraqi army had arrested 18 policemen accused of being involved after they were identified by the Sunni families targeted. But he said the attackers included Shiite militiamen.



The following are every pertinent news story I could gleen about the Wolf Brigade from now to its formation. Note that there is a lacuna between March 2006 until February 2007. I suspect this is due to the fact that there was so much cross-sectarian killing during this period that that activities of a single police brigade simply did not show up in all the noise. However, ironically, this seems to be the period when the U.S. military began to seriously attempt to reform it.

2007, March 3 (Kansas City Star) 10am, Ghazaliya neighborhood NW Baghdad

In the early morning, unknown insurgents shot dead Lt. Col. Fadhil al Rheem,
a battalion commander for the Wolf Brigade.

2007, Feb 9 (USA Today) Iraqi official tied to militia jailed

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces stormed the Health Ministry and arrested the No. 2 official Thursday, accusing him of diverting millions of dollars to the biggest Shiite militia and allowing death squads use of ambulances and government hospitals to carry out kidnappings and killings.

Shiite politicians allied with anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr denounced the arrest of Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and demanded that the prime minister intervene to win his release.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who is under strong U.S. pressure to crack down on Shiite militias and has pledged not to interfere in the security operation to rid Baghdad's streets of gunmen from both Islamic sects, remained silent. But an adviser said nobody would be immune from the crackdown.

2007, Feb 7 (Stars & Stripes) Iraqi VP says police help prevent food, medicine from reaching Sunnis

Since November 2006, the Iraqi national police’s “Wolf Brigade” has helped militias block deliveries of medicine, food, fuel, and even commit murder, al-Hashemi says. He lists nine demands, including the “evacuation” of the national police, delivery of aid and a “protective force consisting of the inhabitants of the area.”

U.S. intelligence officials said they are worried the local Sunnis are prepared to form their own militia if they do not believe the Iraqi government — or U.S. forces — are working quickly enough to protect the people.

2006, March 6 (Amnesty International) Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and Torture in Iraq
After having been detained by a special police force of the Interior Ministry, the Wolf Brigade, a 46-year-old housewife from Mosul, Khalida Zakiya, was shown in February 2005 on the Iraqi TV channel al-‘Iraqiya alleging that she had supported an armed group. However, she later withdrew this confession and alleged that she had been coerced into making it. She was reportedly whipped with a cable by members of the Wolf Brigade and threatened with sexual abuse.

2005, Dec. 30th (NY Times) G.I.'s To Increase U.S. Supervision of Iraqi Police

"'The commandos sort of grew like Topsy [a character in the
novel 'Uncle Tom's Cabin']," he said, 'very quickly, without much control, and
without much training, but with lots of influences from the Ministry of the
Interior and SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq)-Badr
organisation'..'.this is
not specifically designed to
prevent them from abusing detainees, but that is certainly part of our goal'.
"

2005, Dec 13 (ABC News) Iraq's Wolf Brigade Said to Be Effective, at Times Brutal

Recruits cannot apply, they must be chosen by fellow members. Most are former Iraqi Special Forces.

"Show me where the enemies are," they chant. "Where are the terrorists?"

Gen. Rasheed Mohammed, the Wolf Brigade's commander, says his unit is effective and, at times, brutal.

"We don't have eavesdropping or electronic monitoring," he said. "And sometimes we have to be aggressive to come up with a confession from a detainee. Of course, you should not torture."

Mohammed calls it an Iraqi approach to Iraqi problems.

2005, Dec. 12 (MSNBC: Blogging Bagdad) WOLF BRIGADE
In a potentially provocative move, American and Iraqi commanders have dispatched Iraq’s most-notorious police commando unit, the Wolf Brigade, to Ramadi ahead of elections, Western officials told me.

The Wolf Brigade, known to be the one of the most aggressive (if not ruthless) in the Iraqi security forces, is deeply mistrusted by the people of Ramadi, who believe it to be virulently anti-Sunni and responsible for human rights abuses.

The move raised eyebrows among U.S. embassy officials, as politically insensitive during such a volatile time.

For the U.S. military’s perspective, however, the Wolf Brigade is effective and was instrumental in driving insurgents out of Mosul a year ago.

2005, Dec 12 (Documentary) Iraq - Wolf Brigade
Hopes for a stable withdrawal from Iraq rest on the success of Iraqi troops like the Wolf Brigade. We exclusively profile the brigade, which is already infamous for allegedly torturing prisoners.
2005, Nov. 18 (UPI) Wolf Brigade raid angers Iraq's Sunnis
On Sunday, a U.S. Army unit commandeered an interior ministry jail after finding nearly 170 prisoners being held, many with signs of malnourishment and physical abuse. The prisoners were nearly all Sunnis.
2005, Aug. 31 (RadioFreeEurope) The Growing Sunni-Shi'a Divide
Part of the problem stems from the Iraqi transitional government's failure to completely disprove allegations that government forces are behind a recent surge of attacks on Sunnis -- particularly in Baghdad, but also in areas north, south, and west of the capital. Sunni leaders opposed to the government use the attacks to fuel the notion that the government is supporting a campaign led by former Shi'ite militiamen from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Corps -- many of whom now work for the Interior Ministry's commando Wolf Brigade -- and other sanctioned security forces.
2005, July 20 (CPProt.net) Iraqi Wolf Brigade finds stolen artifacts
A battalion from the Iraqi Wolf Brigade conducted raids in the Ameriyah
District and Al Dora neighborhood early July 19. The Iraqi Soldiers captured a suspected dealer of stolen artifacts and one terrorist. They recovered three possible artifacts buried under a pile of palm fronds.

The detainee said he was acting as a middle man for a buyer and that the
artifacts were worth $25,000 each. The dealer believed the items to be 2,000 to 5,000 years old and they may have been stolen from a Baghdad museum.
2005, June 27 (Newsweek) Enemy Spies (Wolf Brigade hit by infiltrating human bomb)
No one challenged the bomber as he approached his target. Iraqi sentries waved him through the gate, into a high-security compound that protects some of the most vital government offices in Baghdad. His uniform and badge identified him as a member of the Wolf Brigade, the elite police unit he had joined three months before. His shirt looked strangely baggy—"billowy," an investigator would say later. It covered a vest packed with explosives. The bomber walked unhindered through the gate and past the Interior Ministry. He passed through another checkpoint at the entrance to Wolf Brigade headquarters, 15 minutes by foot from the compound's gate. In the courtyard, members of the brigade were assembling for their 8:30 a.m. roll call. The young recruit had been AWOL for weeks, but no one asked him where he had been. Then he detonated himself. The only identifiable trace that remained of the bomber was his severed head and feet, according to Iraq's Interior minister, Bayan Jabr.The explosion on June 11 killed three brigade members, wounded roughly a dozen others and worsened an already deep sense of gloom among U.S. military advisers in Iraq. The Wolf Brigade is supposed to be the cream of Iraq's counterinsurgency forces. The attack showed once again how vulnerable those forces remain.
2005, June 11 (BBC) Profile: Iraq's Wolf Brigade
"Detractors see it as a Shia Muslim-dominated force set on intimidating the Sunni minority...Speaking to Knight Ridder News, the commander made no secret of his own Shia affiliation but he said that many of the brigade's most senior officers were Sunni.

"Formally, the brigade is a special forces unit of the new interior ministry, led by former officers of Saddam Hussein's army, who were brought back into the new security forces because of their military experience."

2005, June 9 (NY Times) Iraq's Militia's Q&A

What is the Wolf Brigade?

The most feared and effective commando unit in Iraq, experts say. Formed last October by a former three-star Shiite general and SCIRI member who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Walid, the Wolf Brigade is composed of roughly 2,000 fighters, mostly young, poor Shiites from Sadr City. Members of the group reportedly earn as much as 700,000 Iraqi dinars, or $400, per month, a large sum in Iraqi terms. They dress in garb--olive uniform and red beret--redolent of Saddam Hussein's elite guard; their logo is a menacing-looking wolf.

How did the Wolf Brigade earn its reputation?

Last December, the Wolf Brigade--backed up by the Iraqi army and U.S. military--achieved notoriety after launching a series of counterinsurgency operations in Mosul, a Sunni stronghold northwest of Baghdad. Their popularity was further buoyed by the success of Terrorism in the Grip of Justice, a primetime show on U.S.-funded Al Iraqiya television that features live interrogations of Iraqi insurgents by commandos. In one recent show, Abu Walid questioned around 30 shabbily dressed suspects, some clutching photos of their victims, waiting to confess their crimes.

Is the brigade controversial?

Yes. Some Iraqis accuse the Wolf Brigade of targeting Palestinian refugees in Iraq, using torture to extract confessions from prisoners, and slaying six Sunni clerics. Walid denies the charges, which have raised sectarian tensions. Human-rights groups also accuse creators of the counterterrorism television show of violating the Geneva Conventions by publicly humiliating the detainees. Among Shiites, however, there are patriotic songs devoted to the group. The brigade's fierceness has given it a mythical aura: Iraqi parents reportedly warn their children about the "wolves."

2005, May 23 (Iraq the Model) The Wolf Bites Again

According to Al-Iraqia TV, the Wolf brigade's intelligence elements successfully infiltrated the terrorist groups in the Abu Ghraib region and the information gathered this way paved the way for the latest operation which was done in two waves; the 1st raid was accomplished yesterday while the 2nd one started at 5 in the morning today and has just ended as Al-Iraqia reporter at the scene in Abu Ghraib said. The successful raids which represent the largest operation performed by Iraqi forces so far had resulted in arresting 450 suspected terrorists. The brigade depended mainly on its intelligence personnel who recognized the suspects' faces and pointed them out one by one. The Wolf brigade did almost all the job with the multinational forces providing backup when needed.

Among the detainees was an "Amir" i.e. someone who beheaded at least 10 Iraqis. Also it's believed that the terrorist who lead the latest large attack on the prison in Abu Ghraib was also among those detained.

2005, May 22 (San Diego Union Tribune) Elite Iraqi unit gains fans as it takes fight to insurgents
Abul Waleed rifled through a pile of papers, considering the latest accusations against the elite brigade of Iraqi police commandos he leads from a dusty fortress.

The complaints against the Wolf Brigade were the usual: excessive force, renegade patrols, kidnapping, murder. The charges came from Iraq's most powerful Sunni Muslim leaders, and Waleed clearly relished reading them. It's precisely this take-no-prisoners reputation that has made his unit the most feared and revered of all of Iraq's nascent security forces.

"The Muslim Scholars Association? They're infidels," Waleed said, tossing his detractors' complaints into the wastebasket. "The Islamic Party? Humph. More like the Fascist Party." No matter how many complaints about heavy-handedness pile up on Waleed's desk, there's no changing the fact that the Wolf Brigade rules public opinion in a country desperate for Iraqi heroes.
2005, May 19 (FT) Iraq Sunni blame police and Shia for killings

Mr Dhari said Mr Naimi had been taken from his mosque on Monday night in the district of al-Shaab by uniformed troops of the Wolf Brigade, a police commando unit, accompanied by members of the Badr Brigade militia loyal to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri).

Mr Naimi was "one of the best and most upright men, well known for resisting the occupation", Mr Dhari said.

Other association clerics have said Wolf Brigade commandos gunned down another sheikh, Hamid Mukhlaf al-Dulaimi, on Monday night as he was sleeping on the roof of his home.

Mr Dhari called for the resignation of interior minister Bayan Jaber, a Sciri member who took over the post two weeks ago, and said that the association would pull out of the political process and begin to "defend ourselves" if the killings did not stop.

"We will take revenge on the Brigade of shame," chanted hundreds of dem- onstrators outside the mosque.

An Interior Ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment but the head of the Wolf Brigade denied they had arrested the murdered Sunni. "We don't have these names, we never arrested these people and we have no relation to this case," said the brigade's commander, who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Walid.

The Wolf Brigade, although it contains a high proportion of Sunni officers, was on the frontlines of the counterinsurgency effort in the northern city of Mosul over the winter, where it tracked down insurgent cells affiliated with the puritan Salafi trend of Sunni Islamism. The police commandos, which recruit from military officers associated with Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party, are said to be among the most effective units under the Iraqi government's control but have been accused of human rights abuses.

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