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Cables Reveal More on Wolf Brigade Torture of Iraqis, How It Fueled Violence

Iraqi police officers form human pyramid at training graduation (photo: DVIDSHUB)

Torture and abuse has been known to be routine in detention facilities throughout Iraq. Abuses of Iraqi detainees have taken place in facilities run by US and British forces (e.g. Abu Ghraib). Iraqi forces have also killed, tortured and mistreated individuals they have captured or kidnapped. Some of the forces responsible for killing, torture and mistreatment are Iraq police, for example, the “Wolf Brigade,” which Iraq’s Interior Ministry controls and operates.

The release of the Iraq War Logs by WikiLeaks showed how US commanders were transferring detainees to the Wolf Brigade, a special unit of Iraq police commandos the US interrogators and other authorities knew was feared for the “pain and agony” it was known to exact on Iraq detainees. They showed how the Wolf Brigade beat prisoners, tortured them with electric drills and executed detainees.

Newly published confidential and secret US State Embassy cables from WikiLeaks reveal more details on the Wolf Brigade.

Brutal Kidnappings, Executions Fuel Sectarian Violence

The cables show how the Wolf Brigade contributed to sectarian violence in Iraq. A cable sent out on June 2, 2005, details discussions between the Badr Corps, a political party that formed out of the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and the Muslim Ulama Council (MUC), a Sunni group that carries authority in Iraq. The discussions were facilitated by representatives of Muqtada al-Sadr and centered on a “Letter of Promise” to “cast away past rhetoric and work to minimize sectarian violence.”

During the discussions, MUC representatives allege the Badr Corps, which has many members who populate the ranks of the Iraqi army and police, has exploited their control of election security to manipulate the election. Additionally:

According to Al-Naqib, Al-Rawi and Al-Ani also asserted that the Badr Corps is predominant in MOI’s Wolf Brigade now conducting operations in Baghdad and that this unit was likely behind the Sunni clerics’ deaths. Al-Naqib told PolOff that, in response, he detailed several acts of political violence directed against the Shia. Al-Naqib said that while the MUC represents a minority of Sunnis, he believes that the Shia must engage in these discussions in the interest of national unity. According to Al-Naqib, the MUC representatives originally proposed signing the Letter of Promise to “wash away the past”.

The above illuminates the kind of violence that took place during the January 2005 elections, which were held to vote on an assembly that would draft the nation’s constitution.

Later that year another election was held where Iraqis voted for the first assembly under the new constitution. A cable sent out on December 12, 2005, marked “confidential” details how the US embassy in Baghdad received reports of “blackmail, kidnapping and murder of political candidates and campaign workers in the run-up to the election.

The cable describes the kidnapping of Sun of Iraq’s Coalition leader Tewfik al-Yasiri on November 17, 2005.  Liberal Republicans Party leader Hussein Mussawi reports the Wolf Brigade was involved:

According to Mussawi, the mid-afternoon kidnapping started when 6 armored cars (BMWs and Landcruisers) parked in front of al-Yasiri’s home. According to Mussawi, a Second Commando Brigade (Wolf Brigade) Lieutenant Colonel and his team forcibly entered the home, seized the guards’ weapons and took al-Yasiri.  They handcuffed him, tied his legs together and threw him in the back of the Landcruisers. The officer demanded USD 500,000. In the end, Al-Yasiri’s wife paid a USD 220,000 ransom, Mussawi stated.  The Wolf Brigade returned al-Yasiri on November 19.  Mussawi said that the Wolf Brigade is full of Islamists and he believes either Badr or Sadr- related militia planned the kidnapping. Mussawi urged American intervention as well as support to smaller centrist liberal political parties that lack financial resources to make an impact in the election.

At the time, scant reporting on the kidnapping indicated “guerrillas” kidnapped al-Yasiri (a former Baathist). But, assuming what Mussawi says is true, the Wolf Brigade was responsible. They engaged in political kidnapping during the election to make money and possibly swing the election. The kidnapping was not the result of some “guerrilla” force (and one wonders what other MOI-sanctioned Iraq police or security forces were involved in political violence).

Furthermore, the summary executions of Sunnis in a raid is detailed in a “confidential” cable sent out on May 8, 2007  Wameed Al-Mekhlibe, aide to Ahmad Chalabi, then-chairman of the “popular mobilization for the Baghdad Security Plan (BSP),” reports Chalabi’s office received “credible” reports commandoes from the Wolf Brigade executed eight Sunnis after a raid in the Amel neighborhood of the Rashid district on May 4.

[Al-Mekhlibe] said commandos falsified an order to carry out a raid in the area and entered the neighborhood with American forces, who apparently believed the order was legitimate.  Al-Mekhlibe said Kurdish Army units operating in the area believed the order to be legitimate due to the presence of U.S. forces. He said the joint force arrested 12 Iraqis and the U.S. soldiers left the area with the 12 in the commandos’ custody. He said the commandos took the 12 to a mosque; shortly thereafter, gunshots were heard.  Neighbors later found eight of the 12 dead in the mosque. The other four were nowhere to be found.

Chalabi is known to be concerned about the “Wolf Brigade.” In October 2005, during a meeting with US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad (detailed in a “confidential” cable), he does not think security forces are being properly controlled and coordinated. He focuses on the “Zoological Brigades,” like the “elite ‘Wolf Brigade’ of the Police Commando Battalions.” He describes an incident in Mahmodiyah, where the brigade was out of control, and also notes problems with police chiefs indicates “more care” needs to taken when making selections.

Interior Ministry’s Failure to Address Torture

A few of the cables focus on Interior Minister Baqr Jabr’s struggle to address human rights abuses by the Wolf Brigade.

In a meeting on July 2, 2005, Jabr, Charge d’Affaires David Satterfield, Multinational Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) Commanding General George Casey and IRMO-MOI Advisor James Yellin held a meeting, which is detailed in a “confidential” cable sent out on July 15. Satterfield reports the Wolf Brigade had “mistreated detainees and used excessive force during arrests.” He also claims the Wolf Brigade was working on behalf of the Badr Corps. This Jabr squarely denies. Jabr says it is important to “respect human rights.” He calls the Wolf Brigade “the most effective of the special police forces” and “welcomes” Embassy and Coalition information that “would enable the MOI Inspector General to conduct investigations and file charges.”

This can be contrast with a cable that was sent out just days ago. Iraq Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Ali Kamal reported at his private residence, according to a “secret” cable from July 11, Jabr had “repeatedly ignored oral and written reports of abuse and torture of detainees carried out by unites of the special police commandoes, including the Wolf Brigade.” Kamal noted this “inactivity” conflicts with what Jabr is saying in public.

Kamal emphasizes battalions are abusing prisoners, primarily Sunnis. He mentions those detained were detained during Operation Lightning, an ongoing Defense Ministry/Interior Ministry operation in and around Baghdad.

The cable highlights Special Police Commandoes and Public Order Brigades Commander General Adnan Thabit’s call for a “central investigation committee” to “handle interrogations of all detainees.” The comment in the cable suggests this was Thabit’s way of pre-empting any sort of real investigation and that the committee was intended as a committee that could help provide cover for the police commandoes suspected of abuse and torture:


Human Rights Report Shows Detainees Threatened with Demeaning Acts Against Wives, Sisters

In June 2005, members of the Islamic Organization for Human Rights (IOHR) reported abuse of detainees by Iraq police happens regularly. Twenty-five specific cases associated with the Wolf Brigade were investigated for a public report, according to a June 16, 2005 “confidential” cable.

The group released in May a new report documenting 25 cases of detainee abuse, the majority of which are related to the 2nd Iraqi Police Commandos Unit, known as the Wolf Brigade, that was stationed in Mosul earlier this year.  Sadi claimed that six detainee deaths occurred as a result of torture.  The group described practices such as use of stun guns, hanging suspects from their wrists with arms behind back, holding detainees in basements with human waste, and beatings.  Sadi said interrogators also reportedly threatened detainees with demeaning acts against their wives and sisters, a particularly flagrant violation to a Muslim.  Sadi said some detainees were forced to confess to crimes — not all related to terrorism, Sadi admitted — they did not commit as a result of this treatment.

IOHR members communicate the reality that “detainees’ rights to due process and presumption of innocence” is being violated. Mosul judges have ordered detainees be released only to have those orders ignored by the Mosul Chief of Police. After it is decided detainees are not to be charged, the detainees are still turned over to Iraqi police “for a week before release, during which time abuse occurs.”

The cable notes Iraqi officials have visited police facilities. The facilities suffer from “overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, attributable to the lack of effort by Iraqi courts to try the cases of almost 1000 detainees in Ninewah.” Allegations of abuse, the officials report, are “mostly attributable to the Wolf Brigade” (as well as the local police).

What IOHR members report is consistent with other reports that have been received on the Wolf Brigade, according to James Jeffrey, then-senior advisor to the Secretary of State for Iraq. It does not conflict at all with revelations from the Iraq War Logs but rather adds color to the horrific details, which the logs exposed.

Recall, the logs unveiled a military order “Frago 242” US and UK forces had adopted to excuse them from taking responsibility for torture or abuse of Iraqis by military or security forces. This runs, according to Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers in the United Kingdom, “completely contrary to international law” as it is “well known there’s an absolute prohibition on torture” and “it may never be used.” [For more on this order, read a previous report from Jeff Kaye, “The Forgotten History of David Petraeus.”]

Wolf Brigade Replaced with Another Violent Sectarian Force

The cables clearly show how the brutal force exacerbated sectarian tensions through its conduct and operations. They show how Iraq government officials are frustrated by what they did because of the violence the death squad carried out. They also indicate the US understood they could only use this force for so long before they would have to find a replacement.

Nir Rosen writes in his book Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, the Wolf Brigade was replaced by the Muthana Brigade. It is not much better, as it too is feared by Sunnis.

A 2008 cable shows the Muthana Brigade, led by General Nassir al-Hiti, has been used for to profit off of “ransom” operations in the Abu Ghraib area. Officials from Mada’in Qada in Iraq report Nassir is “involved in a ransoming business,  whereby his Muthana Brigade detains citizens” and charges “upwards of $15,000 for their release from custody.”

In 2007, Peter Maass reported the Muthana Brigade run by al-Hiti had the support of US military. Maass also reported Sunnis that used to fight the US occupation but were now patrolling alongside Americans were being singled out by the Muthana Brigade for wrongful detention. Muthana soldiers also had allegedly beaten a Sunni detainee to death and were known to be conducting raids on homes and abusing Iraqis.

The State Department is now in control of Iraq police training. It can be presumed that a good portion of any killings, kidnappings, torture and abuse committed by Iraq police or security forces is known to them and that if they do nothing about it they are complicit and should be held responsible for further killings, kidnappings, torture and abuse.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."