Iraq’s counterterrorism forces, known as the Golden Division, were once so loathed that they were nicknamed the “Dirty Division.”

They were accused of running secret prisons and carrying out extrajudicial killings. Some lawmakers called for them to be disbanded.

But the country’s war against the Islamic State has restored the reputation of the elite forces, which have spearheaded nearly every major fight against the militants in Iraq. Their commanders have become battlefield celebrities, while popular songs praise the troops’ prowess.

The force of about 10,000 men is a small bright spot in an otherwise lackluster legacy of American efforts to rebuild Iraq’s military in the 13 years since the invasion. U.S. officials say it is their most reliable partner in fighting the Islamic State on the ground, while the Iraqi army struggles with corruption and mismanagement.

But with hundreds of casualties over the past 2 1 / 2 years and few breaks for the men from the grinding war, Iraq may be slowly degrading its best weapon to fight the militants.

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Image courtesy of Reuters

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