Sunday, December 5, 2010

Maliki Has Attempted To Assert His Control Over Iraq’s Intelligence Agencies

Iraq has six different intelligence agencies. None of them collaborate or communicate with each other. In fact, there are intense rivalries between some of them, and they are divided based upon politics, sect, and ties to the U.S. and Iran. These all hinder the government from providing security to the country. On top of that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to get rid of his rivals within the agencies, and appoint his own Dawa party members to them.

After the U.S. invasion, the Americans were responsible for rebuilding Iraq’s intelligence community. Early on it was reported that they employed the Iraqi National Congress to help bring back members of Saddam’s Mukhabarat intelligence arm. The U.S. was especially interested in their abilities to collect information about Iran. Those officers eventually became the core of the new National Intelligence Service under the directorship of Mohammad Shahwani that was put together by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Former National Intelligence Service Director Shahwani (Talisman Gate)

When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office in 2006, he looked suspiciously upon the service. It was comprised of too many former Saddam era agents, it was too Sunni, and too close to the United States. That led him to create his own intelligence agencies that would answer directly to him, as he tried to sideline the National Intelligence Service. The National Security Ministry formed its own intelligence arm, and the Office of Information and Security, which is part of the premier’s office, was also put together as a result. 

In total, Iraq now has six different agencies that collect intelligence. One is the Interior Ministry’s National Information and Investigation Agency. The Investigation Agency is supposed to be responsible for domestic affairs, and has the power to carry out arrests. The Defense Ministry has its Directorate General for Intelligence and Security, which collects information on foreign countries. It also has agents overseas in Iraq’s embassies, and provides protection for the country’s ministries. The Joint Headquarters of the armed forces has an M2 Intelligence Directorate, and each arm of the military has one as well. Then there is the aforementioned National Intelligence Service that is used for internal and external intelligence. It is part of the cabinet, and has ties to the CIA. Maliki’s two intelligence arms are the Ministry of National Security Affairs that overlaps with the others collecting data on both domestic and foreign threats, and the Office of Information and Security that is the intelligence arm of the premier’s office and is under his command.

Iraq’s Intelligence Agencies
1. Directorate General for Intelligence and Security – Is part of the Defense Ministry, collects foreign intelligence, has agents overseas, and protects Iraq’s ministries
2. M2 Military Intelligence – Is the intelligence service of the Joint Headquarters of the Iraqi armed forces. Each branch of the military also has its own M2 Intelligence Directorate
3. Ministry of National Security Affairs – Is responsible for both foreign and domestic intelligence, under command of Minister for National Security
4. National Information and Investigation Agency – Is part of the Interior Ministry, is responsible for domestic affairs, and has police powers
5. National Intelligence Service – Is a domestic and foreign intelligence agency created by the Americans, employs many former Saddam era agents
6. Office of Information and Security – Is under the premier’s office and reports directly to the Prime Minister

Iraq’s intelligence agencies are supposed to be structured and coordinated. By law, the National Intelligence Coordination Council is suppose run all of the various intelligence bodies. The Council is headed by the prime minister, and also includes the national security adviser, the heads of the intelligence agencies, and the office of Information and Security. Below the Council is the National Intelligence Cell, which was formed at the beginning of 2010. It is supposed to the clearing house for all the information collected.

In practice, rivalries and competition drive the various intelligence offices. Maliki’s animosity towards the National Intelligence Service helped create a rivalry between its director Shahwani and the Minister of National Security Sharwan al-Waili. Maliki and other Shiite politicians accused the National Intelligence Service of being too close to the Americans and Sunni political parties. Members of the Intelligence Service came under threat of the deBaathification laws because of their service under the former regime, and this political dispute. The Ministry of National Security on the other hand, was seen as being too close to Iran. This charge even came from a few Americans, while some Sunnis accused Minister Waili of being an agent of Tehran. The two agencies were also reported to only target certain groups because of their political and sectarian views, and of even going after each other. In August 2009 these differences boiled over into public view when Maliki forced out Shahwani. Tariq Najm, the director of the prime minister’s office, replaced him, in another attempt by Maliki to strengthen his grip on intelligence.

National Security Minister Waili (Wikipedia)

Recently released U.S. State Department cables document more attempts by Maliki to gain sway over the intelligence agencies. Just before the Iraqi elections in February 2010 Maliki fired 376 intelligence officers from the Defense and Interior Ministries, M2 Military Intelligence, and the National Intelligence Service. Maliki replaced almost all of them with Dawa members who had little to no experience in the field. One U.S. diplomat complained that the premier was harming Iraq’s intelligence community by kicking out experienced officers, and that the moves might be an attempt to strengthen his hand before the national voting. In one case, the prime minister requested the removal of 35 of M2 intelligence’s 132 staff for alleged ties to the Baath Party. The M2 director Alaa al-Ameri was able to cut the list to 22. Ameri subsequently complained to the Americans that almost all those on Maliki’s list were Sunnis, and that they included some of the most experienced intelligence hands in the department. The same thing happened at Interior’s National Information and Investigation Agency where the prime minister wanted 125 out for being Baathists. Maliki also appointed 47 Dawa members to M2, and another 58 to the National Information and Investigation Agency. All those placed in M2 had lived in Iran during the Saddam period, and Ameri thought that their diplomas were all faked as well. The U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic staff all complained to Maliki about this, but to no avail. In fact, Ameri was later fired too.

Iraq has a fragmented intelligence community. It is open to political and sectarian divisions, and both the United States and Iran have also played a role. The result is a group of agencies that don’t trust each other, especially the National Intelligence Service and the Ministry of National Security Affairs. Prime Minister Maliki has made the situation worse by his machinations to create his own intelligence bodies, and place Dawa members within each agency. These rivalries and differences prevent a steady flow of information from reaching Iraq’s security forces and leaders. It also hinders the collection of intelligence, as some groups are seen as representing a specific sect. The premier’s moves also set a dangerous example of politicizing the different arms of the community. The result is that Iraq’s six intelligence agencies reflect the dysfunction present in the rest of the country, none of which are likely to be solved any time soon.


Ackerman, Spencer, “Expect Sectarian Changeover With Iraqi Intelligence Jobs,” Washington Independent, 3/4/09

Banerjee, Neela and Jehl, Douglas, “Iraqi party helping U.S. reassemble Iran spy unit,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/22/03

Bengali, Shashank, “WikiLeaks: Maliki filled Iraqi security services with Shiites,” McClatchy Newspapers, 12/3/10

Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraqi Force Development,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2008

Fadel, Leila, “Cables show Iraq PM removed opposition from positions of power,” Washington Post, 12/4/10

Fisher, Max, “Iraq’s Security and Intelligence Gutted in Political Purges, New Cables Show,” Atlantic Monthly, 12/3/10

International Crisis Group, “Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown And Withdrawal,” 10/26/10

Jones, General James, “The Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq,” Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, 9/6/07

Klein, Joe, “Is al-Qaeda on the Run in Iraq?” Time, 5/23/07

Reuters, “Iraqi Intelligence Chief Retired Just Before Major Blasts,” 8/23/09

Roads To Iraq, “Election update – various other news,” 9/29/09
- “Maliki wants to control the intelligence service,” 8/25/09
- “US-appointed head of the Iraqi Intelligence forced to retire,” 8/23/09

Sands, Phil, “Iraqi intelligence services accused of targeted killings,” The National, 9/21/10

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