Riding Herd on the Iraqi Police's Dirty 'Wolf Brigade' Army Maj. Charles Miller recently finished a year advising a group of Iraqi security forces. The National Police's "Wolf Brigade" has been linked to sectarian torture and killing. His advice to trainees who'll follow in his footsteps: Never let your guard down.
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Riding Herd on the Iraqi Police's Dirty 'Wolf Brigade'

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Riding Herd on the Iraqi Police's Dirty 'Wolf Brigade'

Riding Herd on the Iraqi Police's Dirty 'Wolf Brigade'

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Some U.S. troops on their way to Afghanistan or Iraq prepare for a very real possibility.

They climb into a Humvee, or rather a Humvee chassis mounted on a giant swivel. Soldiers and the odd reporter practice getting flipped upside down as they might be in a bombing or a crash.

Unidentified Man: This is where we roll over.

INSKEEP: Okay, a little blood rush to the head here.

Unidentified Man: Woo-hoo!

INSKEEP: Troops at Fort Riley, Kansas train to advise Iraqi security forces. And we've been reporting this week on a job that requires them to roll over some of their thinking.

Major General CARTER HAM: It's very much a culture change inside the Army.

INSKEEP: Major General Carter Ham says Army leaders have to learn not to lead.

Major General HAM: We want you to get your Iraqi counterpart or your Afghan counterpart - we want them to be the ones who are the bold, decisive, aggressive leaders. And it's a tough thing.

INSKEEP: You sense how tough when you sit down with Major Charles Miller, who is telling trainees of his own recent experience.

Major CHARLES MILLER (U.S. Army): I was a national police adviser for the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st National Police Division in Baghdad. They were the Wolf Brigade.

INSKEEP: The Wolf Brigade has been linked to sectarian torture and killing.

Maj. MILLER: They were known for getting the job done, but how they got it was questionable. They actually had a TV show on Iraqi TV similar to 'Cops.' Iraqi media would follow around the Wolf Brigade and they would go to arrest somebody who was accused of something. And at the end of each episode they would show the guy in custody admitting to everything he did. However, when the guy was in custody, he was bruised up and bloody.

INSKEEP: What was the Iraqis' attitude towards you when you first showed up?

Maj. MILLER: They were very friendly, but they're friendly because as long as the Americans are with them, they can get away with more because the Iraqi people see Americans with them and think everything is legitimate. And they pulled the wool over our eyes a few times.

INSKEEP: What were some of the things they fooled you on, and what were the things you began doing to correct it?

Maj. MILLER: The national police, I'll say the Wolf Brigade of the national police, are about 98 percent Shia. When we would go on missions to detain people, we would detain, say, 30 people. Twenty-eight would be Shia; two would be Sunni, and they would release the Shia and keep the Sunnis. And the Sunnis were mistreated. It got to the point where now every time anyone is detained, we have to take a picture of them when they're detained.

INSKEEP: Just to document.

Maj. MILLER: Just to document what they looked like when they were detained.

INSKEEP: This must be a difficult situation, because you've got to ask yourself do I want to help these guys or do I want to somehow stop them from doing business at all?

Maj. MILLER: It is. It was mentioned to me about one of my team members that we are, I guess, sanctioning what the Shia are doing, but that's not necessarily true. We tried to keep them as honest as we possibly can while we're with them. They would have warrants. We come to find out all the warrants were not legitimate. Well, one, I can't read Arabic, but our interpreters would look at them and if the warrants weren't completely filled out and weren't legitimate, we would not go, and if you do it, you do it on your own.

INSKEEP: Did that affect them?

Maj. MILLER: It slowed them down some. This - we probably started operating this way in about July or August of last year and it made operations a little more difficult. In September 20th of last year, my team was led into an ambush. We rolled out to the site with no clue of where it was and 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 a ditch and never fired back. So whether we were set up or not, we don't know. That was the opinion we got because we were being so rough on them, sticklers for details.

INSKEEP: You think that the national police led you into this ambush?

Maj. MILLER: Yes. That's what we suspect.

INSKEEP: What did you do the next day?

Maj. MILLER: I had a long talk with the battalion commander and I confronted - I did not tell him that we suspected we were set up. I asked him why he didn't fire back. And he told me that they had bad ammunition and it wouldn't work. What, your entire battalion had bad ammunition? And he said, yes, the bullets were bad, we need some more, they wouldn't work. So from then on, we never did another mission unless me and my team were involved in the planning.

INSKEEP: That's interesting because you could reasonably at that point say in another situation I'm not going to work with you people anymore. This is not safe. I'm taking my people out. You decided to stay or you were required to stay.

Maj. MILLER: I was required to stay with them.

INSKEEP: Did you think that anything improved there in those last few months?

Maj. MILLER: Actually, the last few months, things got better because shortly after that, the Wolf Brigade was moved out of their sector. And they were doing some crooked things there also that we had caught them in, and shortly after that the brigade commander was fired.

We would go to a Sunni town, cordon the town, search it, confiscate weapons; the searches would go great because American presence. We would leave and the Wolf Brigade went back in that night and started kidnapping and killing people, burned a couple of houses down.

And then the local people turned on them, started shooting them and then they called us on the phone and said, hey, we're being ambushed, come help us. So I told my counterpart that I'm not coming. But you got to come help me. No, you're doing something you're not supposed to. We're not going. After that, we had no more problems.

INSKEEP: As you come here now to talk to other Americans who are preparing by the thousands for the same experience, what are some pieces of advice you give them?

Maj. MILLER: Never let your guard down, ever.

INSKEEP: U.S. Army Major Charles Miller recently finished a year advising Iraq's security forces. He says he is willing to go back -after a break. He's one of several advisers we've heard this week and you can hear the others at NPR.org.

MONTAGNE: And Major Miller's story takes on extra meaning this morning as we learn about a mass killing in Northern Iraq. Off-duty Shia Muslim policemen wanted to respond to a pair of truck bombings. Local authorities say the Shia police went on a killing spree. They murdered at least 45 Sunni Muslims.

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