Iraq's Wolf Brigade Said to Be Effective, at Times Brutal

ByABC News
December 13, 2005, 6:49 PM

BAGHDAD, Dec. 13, 2005 — -- As Iraq's Election Day approaches, there are more than 230,000 Iraqi soldiers and police on the streets -- 100,000 more than last January during the country's first election.

But for millions of Iraqis, real security comes in the form of the most feared commando unit in the country -- the notorious Wolf Brigade.

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.

An ABC News team today shadowed Gen. Martin Dempsey, the American in charge of the crucial effort to train Iraqi forces. He was in Iraq during the U.S. invasion, and he's now training men he used to fight. In Iraq, he said, law and order means something very different.

"We are fighting through a very harsh environment," Dempsey said. "Meaning these guys are not fighting on the streets of Bayonne, New Jersey. The police have to overcome some expectations, very low expectations on the part of the populace."

The Wolf Brigade has become famous for coaxing confessions out of people it captures any way it can.

The unit has the most popular TV show in Iraq. It's so graphic that it's been pulled off the air for election week because many Sunni Muslims say the unit unfairly targets them.

About the complaints of intimidation, Dempsey said, "There is a sense in our society that a man or a woman are considered innocent until proven guilty. Now I wouldn't exactly say it's the opposite here, but it's close."

For Dempsey, a big part of building a viable police force is learning to accept, if not embrace, the cultural differences.

For now, American soldiers are just trying to teach Iraqis the basics. The U.S. military says the best thing about the Iraqi commando brigades is their aggressiveness. Unfortunately, the worst thing is their marksmanship.

There is no consensus about when this sort of commando militia along with the military will be able to take over for Americans. But the U.S. cannot afford to get the timing wrong.

"The biggest danger of leaving too soon," said Dempsey, "is that the systems that support this magnificent force we've put in the field fails it, and I mean fails. And then what you've got out there if that happens, is you've got 112 battalions worth of armed angry young men who don't feel themselves to be part of anything they call an institution -- be it army or police."

ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas filed this report for "World News Tonight."