Despite the U.S. command's announcement last week
that it would seek to curb abuses by Iraqi commando units, the U.S. military
has been extremely tolerant of the most abusive unit of all the notorious
Wolf Brigade because it regards it as highly effective against the insurgents.
As reported in a front-page New York Times story
on Dec. 30, a senior U.S. commander said the United States would greatly
increase the number of soldiers advising Iraqi commando units. The unidentified
U.S. general also suggested that commandos had developed with little U.S. supervision.
"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 organization."
The senior U.S. commander further hinted that many of the commando operations
are by rogue elements outside formal government control. "It is not easy
to identify that some operation tonight was legitimately directed by somebody
in the security organization of MOI [Ministry of Interior] or MOD [Ministry
of Defense]," he said, "or whether it was some people in stolen uniforms
who decided to attack someone's opposite number in some other tribe or neighborhood."
Finally, the commander criticized Iraqi commando abuses of detainees as "making
new enemies here" and said, "You've got to be more moderate. You must
follow the rule of law."
The record shows, however, that the U.S. military has had a close operational
relationship with the Wolf Brigade, the most hated and feared commando unit,
and has even carried out joint operations with it. The U.S. command had repeatedly
sent the Brigade to carry out operations in Sunni cities despite the opposition
of U.S. embassy officials who warned that such deployments would fuel sectarian
tensions and violence.
And until last week's press briefing in Baghdad, high-ranking U.S. officers
had portrayed the Brigade as effective and suggested that its reliance on such
extreme methods were to be expected under the circumstances in Iraq.
The day after the press was informed of the plan to add more U.S. advisers
to commando units, Maj. Gen. William Webster, commander of "multinational
forces" in the Baghdad area, told a press briefing that the move is "not
specifically designed to prevent them from abusing detainees, but that is certainly
part of our goal."
The Wolf Brigade, which formed in October 2004, trained with U.S. forces for
nearly two months and was then sent to Mosul. It has operated in the Baghdad
area, Ramadi, and Diyala province, always in close cooperation with U.S. military
units and with U.S. police assistance teams attached to it.
The Brigade is well-known to regard Sunnis in general as the enemy. Its founder,
Shi'ite General Abul Waleed, is so strongly sectarian in his attitude toward
Sunnis that he has referred to the Association of Muslim Scholars, the most
important organization of Sunni clerics, as "infidels." The indiscriminate
torture and killing of Sunni detainees appears to be motivated in large part
by revenge against Sunnis for their historical support for the regime of Saddam
Last May, the Association of Muslim Scholars publicly accused the Wolf Brigade
of having "arrested imams and the guardians of some mosques, tortured and
killed them, and then got rid of their bodies in a garbage dump in Shaab district"
Journalists began reporting details of forced confessions through torture and
indiscriminate killing of Sunni detainees by the Wolf Brigade last summer. In
one case reported by the Associated Press last July, a woman detained by the
Wolf Brigade in Mosul was whipped by six men with electric cables and forced
to sign a false confession that she was a high-ranking local leader of the insurgency.
After the Brigade left the city and turned her over to local authorities, they
released her with an apology for the torture she endured.
The Financial Times reported in late June that 474 people had been seized
from their homes during one Wolf Brigade sweep in the Abu Ghraib area and had
suffered systematic abuse at the hands of the Brigade. A former detainee said
commandos had "attached electrical wires to his ear and his genitals, and
generated a current with a hand-cranked military telephone."
The Wolf Brigade commander, Gen. Rasheed Mohammed, told ABC news on Dec. 13,
"Sometimes we have to be aggressive to come up with a confession from a
detainee." He then added, "Of course, you should not torture."
Despite this mounting evidence of systematic torture, the U.S. command had
shown no evidence of discomfort about supporting the Brigade. Some Wolf Brigade
sweeps through Sunni neighborhoods have been carried out alongside U.S. troops.
On Nov. 10, a U.S. officer described on his personal weblog a "battalion
sized joint operation" between the "Nightstalkers" (Army Airborne
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment) and the Wolf Brigade in southern
Baghdad. The blogger concluded, "As we passed vehicle after vehicle full
of blindfolded detainees my face stretched into a long wolfish smile
The following week, according to UPI's Pamela Hess, the Wolf Brigade was sent
to Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, where U.S. military "police
assistance teams" actually helped the Brigade to plan the operation and
provided a surveillance drone, a medical team, and a quick-reaction force to
support it. A U.S. military officer said it was a success, commenting that "they
didn't come in here and shoot the place up or beat people in the streets."
According to NBC's Richard Engel, the U.S. command decided to send the Wolf
Brigade to Ramadi in advance of the recent parliamentary elections a
move that Engel reported embassy officials regarded as "insensitive,"
in light of its record of violent abuses against Sunnis. An official of the
U.S. command suggested to Engel that the Wolf Brigade is a very effective unit,
crediting it with successfully driving insurgents out of Mosul a year ago.
As recently as Dec. 13, the U.S. command had signaled that the Wolf Brigade's
methods were not an issue. When ABC news reporter Elizabeth Vargas asked Gen.
Martin Dempsey, who is responsible for training Iraqi security forces, about
the Wolf Brigade's methods, Dempsey said "We are fighting through a very
these guys are not fighting on the streets of Bayonne,
Referring to complaints about the forced confessions, Dempsey said, "There
is a sense in our society that a man or a woman is considered innocent until
proven guilty. Now I wouldn't exactly say it's the opposite here, but it's close."
Vargas summed up his view of the issue: "For Dempsey, a big part of building
a viable police force is learning to accept, if not embrace, the cultural differences."
In light of the U.S. command's past close relationship with the Wolf Brigade
and its attitude toward its abuses, the latest move by Washington to distance
itself from commando operations such as the Wolf Brigade appears to be more
of a public-relations ploy than a substantive change in its own policy toward
(Inter Press Service)