Guard Unit Tied to Elite Iraqi Force
Members of a California Army National Guard company that was placed on restrictive duty in Iraq after being implicated in the latest detainee abuse scandal have trained and conducted joint operations with Iraqi police forces, including an elite unit accused of brutality.
The Wolf Brigade of the Iraqi police is famous in Iraq for staging daring raids in Mosul and Baghdad and for its commander, known as Maj. Gen. Abu Walid, who became a national celebrity after he hosted televised “confessions” of alleged insurgents captured by the group. Critics of the forces say they use torture to coerce confessions from suspected insurgents.
Military officials said Wednesday that they did not know whether the company’s association with Iraqi special forces had anything to do with the allegations of detainee abuse.
The relationship between Fullerton-based Alpha Company and Iraq’s special police forces came to light during a second day of revelations about the troubled 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment, which includes about 680 soldiers. The guardsmen have been in Iraq since January.
Investigators are focusing in part on five soldiers in 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, who have already been charged with abusing Iraqi detainees.
Members of three of four active companies in the battalion are being investigated for their alleged role in mistreating Iraqi prisoners and engaging in inappropriate financial agreements with local shopkeepers, according to military officials.
The most egregious case of detainee abuse reported so far occurred after a June insurgent attack, when soldiers allegedly tortured Iraqi detainees with an electric stun gun. At least one instance of abuse was recorded on video, military sources said.
As many as 17 soldiers are under investigation for mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners and at least six others have been charged with dereliction of duty. Lt. Col. Patrick Frey, the battalion commander, has been suspended pending the investigation.
In addition to Alpha Company, military officials are investigating soldiers with Bravo Company of Dublin, Calif., and Delta Company of Oakdale, Calif., for possible violations of military conduct.
Lt. Col. Cliff Kent, spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, and Capt. Daniel Markert, commander of the battalion’s rear detachment, confirmed that 1st Sgt. Robert Jones, a soldier with Delta Company, was relieved of duty several weeks ago. Sources said he is accused of threatening an Iraqi detainee by shooting at a water heater during an interrogation.
There were also new allegations by a member of the battalion Wednesday that a high-ranking officer in Alpha Company called a meeting of the unit’s leadership within the last two weeks and presented a list of soldiers’ names.
The officer had marked the names of those soldiers whom investigators were trying to persuade to provide evidence.
“These people were not identified for any other purpose than intimidation,” the source said. “It was the circling of the wagons.”
So far only Alpha Company has been placed on restrictive duty, Kent said.
“The soldiers of [Alpha] Company still contribute to the overall mission of the unit by performing other assigned duties to include base security missions,” Kent wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.
He downplayed allegations of an extortion scheme reported in Wednesday’s edition of The Times. In that story, two military sources alleged that at least six soldiers were involved in a scheme that extorted $30,000 from Iraqi shopkeepers in exchange for protection from insurgents.
Kent called those allegations unfounded, though he said one soldier was disciplined in connection with that portion of the investigation.
Markert said the financial investigation concluded weeks ago and found only a "$4,000 discrepancy.” He said the problem stemmed from an inappropriate rental agreement between local Iraqis and the battalion’s forward operating base. Markert said the situation had been blown out of proportion.
The most serious allegations involve Alpha Company, which started conducting operations with the Wolf Brigade after the Iraqi force moved from Mosul to Baghdad last spring.
In an online Alpha Company newsletter, Capt. Keith J. Haviland, the unit commander and a Pomona-based physical therapist, wrote about 2nd Platoon’s ceding of responsibility for several Baghdad neighborhoods to Iraqi police forces. “We have assigned 2nd Platoon to help them transition, and install some of our ‘Killer Company’ aggressive tactical spirit in them,” Haviland wrote. “With every Iraqi soldier we get fully prepared, ensures our long term success.”
Haviland’s online letter said 1st Platoon was assigned to work with the Wolf Brigade.
“1st Platoon has been integrated with the Iraqi Police in sector, and have trained them to do raids ... and patrol,” Haviland wrote. He said that he assigned one officer to lead the training of “the Iraqi Army’s Special Forces Wolf Brigade.”
“These soldiers have taken nearly 300 detainees in our area since they arrived in early May,” Haviland said.
The brigade is both loved and feared in Iraq for its attacks on alleged insurgent hide-outs and the dramatic televised confessions those offensives produced.
But Sunni human rights advocates charged that the brigade elicited the confessions by beating their captives. A woman interviewed by The Times this year said brigade officers whipped her sister with telephone wires to force her to confess to terrorist acts and to accuse her male associates of raping her and of having homosexual relations.
The detainee, Khalida Mashhandani, was later released after it was determined that her confessions had been coerced.
Despite its controversial reputation, the Wolf Brigade is regarded by U.S. military officials as the gold standard for Iraqi security forces.
The unit operates out of dilapidated barracks on the outskirts of Baghdad and storms through the streets in convoys of white pickup trucks loaded with uniformed officers raising AK-47s.
During an April interview in his office, Walid, a gregarious man with a thick black mustache, acknowledged that his officers “sometimes get carried away in their duties.”
One member of Alpha Company who has not been accused of participating in the abuse said that the alleged misconduct should not be blamed on a relationship with the Iraqi Wolf Brigade. “These are grown men.... Some of them are seasoned vets who have been in active duty. It’s inexcusable. You know what’s right and what is wrong.”
The source sought to lay most of the blame on the unit’s leadership. “We have a lot of good men. We do. But when you have leadership issues, the rotten apples take control.”
The battalion has been plagued with morale problems since last year, when soldiers complained of inadequate preparation, supplies and tactical equipment. They also said they had not been properly trained to guard against insurgents’ roadside bombs. A National Guard investigation concluded they were battle-ready.
Times staff writers Christine Hanley and H.G. Reza contributed to this report.